With its fast-moving plots, packed with information, LONDON tells a two-thousand year tale of families in England's capital, from Roman to present times. REVIEWS
Segovax, a Celtic boy with webbed fingers and a white flash in his hair, who tries to save his father from Julius Caesar and his Roman legions, is the ancestor of both the poor Doggets and the aristocratic Duckets. Saxon Bulls and Carpenters, Viking Barnikels, Norman Silversleeves, Flemings from Flanders, Merediths from Wales, the Protestant Penny family, Huguenots from France, Scottish Forsyths - as they interact and intermarry, reflect the rich genealogy of the British, a nation of immigrants.
As the city grows, we witness London's Roman amphitheatre, Chaucer's London Bridge, the building of the Tower of London, of Shakespeare's Globe and mighty St Pauls, the growth of the mean streets of Dickens and the fashionable West End.
The family saga involves the characters in the Norman Conquest, the massacre of the Jews, magna carta and Parliament's rise, and the Peasants' Revolt. We watch the martyrdom of St Thomas More, the beheading of Charles I, the visit of Pocahontas, and the sailing of the Mayflower. We experience the Plague and Fire of London, and Hitler's Blitz. Through Rutherfurd's rich research, we learn about the workings of medieval whorehouses, the College of Heralds, cockney rhyming slang, the South Sea Bubble, the great run on the banks of 1825, and the scandal caused by the suffragettes.
Aristocrats and stonemasons, brewers and grocers, aldermen and prostitutes, forgers and bodysnatchers, every class and type is to be found in the great river of life that, like the River Thames itself, flows ceaselessly through LONDON.
From the Daily Telegraph:
'Few literary novels tell us as much about the history of modern humans, or have such charity'
From the San Francisco Chronicle:
'Fascinating...a sprawling epic'
From the Orlando Sentinel:
'A tour de force...LONDON tracks the history of the English capital from the days of the Celts until the present time...breathtaking'
Lisa Jardine in the Times:
'Here are 800 pages of hold-your-breath suspense, buccaneering adventure, and passionate tales of love and war set on London from the birth of time to the present day...The detail is beautifully researched...But the author does not labour the authenticity. Instead he allows the reader to absorb the bustle and colour of London life generation by generation, acculmulating a sense of the city constantly in change.
Rutherfurd's technique for holding out attention is to entice us into the lives of individuals... We are introduced to a cluster of families from divers backgrounds and geographical origins whose fortunes criss-cross the centuries... On the one hand, these families pass on inherited traits which allow the reader to spot them in each generation... On the other hand, character is certainly not inherited... As each story unfolds, we gradually discover who, in this generation, are the heroes; who the villains.
Then there's the fabric of London itself, the persistence of landmarks and street patterns... Coins or artefacts stolen or lost in one chronicle raise the reader's expectations that they might be recovered in another, at a later date...
Rutherfurd's is a marathon task... I think that he pulls it off. LONDON: the Novel could hook you on history for life.'
Christopher Lehmann-Haupt in the New York Times:
'Edward Rutherfurd's grand new novel, which traces the English city's history from the Druids to the Blitz... is consciously trying to apply James Michener's techniques to the United Kingdom. He gives the characters in 'London' prominent physical traits like the long noses that characterize all the members of the Silversleeves family, or the patches of silver hair and webbed fingers that keep showing up on the Duckets, or rememberable surnames like Bull, Penny and Barnikel (so-called because one ancestor, a fearsome Viking warrior, disliked killing children and gave the order before each raid, 'Bairn ni kel,' or 'Don't kill the children.').
Each episode is a punchy tale made up of bite-size chunks ending in tiny cliffhangers... And telling of greed, lust, revenge, loyalty, bravery, cleanliness and reverence... The purpose of 'London' is to weave together the great events of English history... The fun of it all is seeing the pieces fall into place... Yet for all the fun of the novel, Mr. Rutherfurd has some serious points to make: as the god of his creation, he sits back and pares his fingernails, allowing villainy to be rewarded and virtue to be punished, and passing no final moral judgments on his characters. More important to him is the wonderful distinctiveness of London. As one character representing his views puts it: 'London was always a city of large numbers of aliens who quickly assimilated... A genetic river, if you like, fed by any number of streams.'
And he pulls off some remarkable effects. Typical of them a description of a Puritan character named O Be Joyful Carpenter listening to the chiming of London's bells:
'Louder and louder now their mighty ringing grew, clanging and crashing down the major scale, drowning out every puny tune, until even the dome of St. Paul's itself seemed to be resonating in the din. And as he listened to this tremendous sound echoing all around him, so strident and so strong, it suddenly seemed to Carpenter that he could hear therein a thousand other voices: the Puritan voices of Bunyan and his pilgrim, the voice of his father Gideon and his saints, of Martha, why even of the Protestant Almighty himself. And, lost in their massive chorus, for a moment forgetting everything, even his own poor soul, he hugged his grandchildren and cried out in exultation: 'Hear! Oh, hear the voice of the Lord!' Then all the bells of London rang, and then O Be Joyful was joyful indeed.' What a delightful way to get the feel of London and of English history.' READ REVIEW.
From Kirkus Reviews:
'Rutherfurd, having celebrated at some length the growth of an English cathedral town (Sarum, 1987) and the turbulent history of Russia (Russka, 1991), offers a massive survey in fictional form of London's long history. Like the work of his likely inspiration, James Michener, Rutherfurd's novels are distinguished by admirable research and a propulsive plot. This latest follows the growth of London from its origins as a Celtic encampment through its emergence as the Roman capital in Britain and on to its long climb to preeminence as England's (and, for a time, the world's) greatest city. Interwoven with the private (and rather melodramatic) adventures of a half-dozen families over a 2,000-year span are most of the events that shaped England (from the Norman invasion up to the Battle of Britain).'
From Audio File:
'Condensing eight hundred pages and several hundred centuries into four tapes leads inevitably to a loss of detail, but the listener of this abridgment isn't left wanting. The book itself is crammed with the trivia of history, from the time of the Druids to the last decade of the twentieth century. Even with this condensed form, the listener is held spellbound. Prebble's British accents range from royal to cockney, and his narration is peppered with various Celtic brogues, all distinguishing a complex cast of characters and cameo appearances by the likes of Chaucer and Shakespeare. Rutherfurd is a master storyteller, and the quality of his craft is in no way diminished through abridgment.'
With its fast-moving plots, packed with information, LONDON tells a two-thousand year tale of families in England's capital, from Roman to present times.