This is another of Edward Rutherfurd’s books telling the history of a particular place through the lives of several generations of families from different orders of its society. I’ve been meaning to read it for ages, and French Open fortnight seemed as good a time as any for it ;-). His first books, starting with Sarum, went in chronological order, but he now seems to’ve decided that he prefers to jump about all over the place; and it just doesn’t work as well. Maybe I’m missing something, but surely it makes more sense to progress chronologically through the centuries than to have a chapter set in 1883 followed by a chapter set in 1261, which is then in turn followed by a chapter set in 1885. The whole book jumps around like this. 1462 to 1897 to 1572. 1991 to 1637 to 1914. 1936 to 1794 and then back to 1936. Why??
The book’s well-written – apart from the use of some very modern expressions which don’t quite work in a historical context – and the characters come across well, but the jumping around just doesn’t work for me! I found the choice of which parts of the history of Paris to include and which to leave out odd, as well. Obviously you can’t include every single major event/development or the book would go on for ever, but there seem to be some obvious things missing.
He hasn’t gone back further than 1261, so the Gauls, the Romans and the Franks are all completely absent. OK, maybe that was to stop the book from getting too long, but, having started in 1261, surely all the main things after then should have been included. The Hundred Years’ War is mentioned in retrospect, but not actually included as such. Even more bizarrely, the Storming of the Bastille is missing. There is a chapter set in 1794, but I would have expected a lot more about the Revolution. Nothing about 1830 or 1848 either. OK, I could have lived with that, but the entire Napoleonic era’s missing as well! He’s presumably got his reasons for steering clear of the more obvious times/events, but … well, maybe I’m too much of a Victorian Whig historian, but surely you want the big moments in there? Or is it just me?
An awful lot of the book was set during the Belle Epoque – not including the Paris Commune, although that was frequently referred back to, but during the period between the end of the Franco-Prussian War and the outbreak of the First World War. Maybe he really wanted to write a book about that, and not about the history of Paris as a whole. That’s the way it came across, anyway.
I sound as if I’m being super-critical, and I don’t mean to be, because it’s a genuinely interesting and enjoyable book, but it just didn’t really do what it said on the tin, and what his earlier books have done. Too much jumping around! I’ve had a look through the reviews on Amazon and see that quite a few people have complained that they didn’t like the jumping around format, so fingers crossed that he’ll stick to writing chronologically in future! Maybe I am just too Victorian-Whiggish, or maybe I’m just plain boring, but leaping from just after the end of the Hundred Years’ War to the Belle Epoque and then leaping from the Belle Epoque back to the St Bartholomew’s Day Massacre is a very weird way of going about things! Order, order …