World without end – a gargantuan novel by Ken Follett can be more appropriately named “Novel without end”. It runs on for 1000 + pages and covers the lives of the protagonists from childhood to middle age. Technically, this is a sequel to his other novel -The Pillars of the Earth. However, you can read World Without End easily as a stand-alone novel, just like I did.
For all its length it is a surprisingly readable and engrossing novel – the style is kinda like a soap opera but based in the 14th century. Yes, Ken Follett is also writing historical fiction these days.
The main theme of the novel deals with conflicts between scientific ideas vs religious beliefs. This theme is played out time and again with various incidents – the most notable being La moria grande (the great plague) that inflicts the population three times during the course of the novel. The head nun believes that washing hands, avoiding public gatherings, (such as going to church on sundays), and wearing a mask can reduce the spread of the disease. However, the priests condemn this as heretic thought and continue going about their traditional ways only to fall prey to the disease.
Another theme that is discussed in the novel is the concept of serfdom and the freedom of the people to own and farm their own land. This is shown through the conflict between the wicked Earl and one of his serfs who has dared to stand up to him.
And yet another theme, is the one of architecture. Ken Follett must be really interested in medieval architecture because there is a lot of description here. One of the main protagonists is an architect whose dream is to build the tallest tower in England, and he finally achieves this dream after a great deal of trouble. Here again, he is in conflict with a traditional builder who is very jealous of the new ideas / concepts that he is bringing about.
As you can make out from this review, this is a very ambitious novel with a large number of protagonists. However, it still makes for very easy reading as Ken Follett has not resorted to writing in Olde English style to make it more realistic. In addition, the pace of the novel is very fast.
The novel could have been edited a little more. Some plot devices occur again and again, and make it a little tiresome. For example, there was absolutely no need to have the plague occur three times in the novel.
Apart from this, the novel is well worth reading. Only, please don’t borrow it from the library like I did ! I had to return it within two weeks, and so ended up rushing through it. Take your time and enjoy the book at your leisure.