Friday, September 27, 2013
There are certain words that are presumed to be associated with virtually any review of an Edward Rutherfurd novel: “Epic.” “Sweeping.” “Vast.” “Spectacular.” Readers presume, picking up one of his books, that they will be immersed in a comprehensive historical exploration of the social, political, and historical influences of whatever geographical region is the target of his current focus. Readers of Paris will not be disappointed.
That said, there are departures from Rutherfurd's traditional approach that some may find disconcerting but that I felt were entirely welcome given the context and the subject. Rutherfurd is known for his historical fiction, weaving meticulously researched facts together with compelling characterizations that explore what it truly meant to experience, navigate, and strive to succeed in a particular place and time. In Paris, Rutherfurd explores the growth and evolution of the City of Light through the eyes of six families. In doing so, the book moves in a non-linear fashion over a period of nearly 700 years as the narratives of each family unfold, intersect, and evolve.
The breadth and detail of the book are nothing short of spectacular. I have long loved the city that inspired it, and yet I learned a significant amount about how the structure, environment, and politics of Paris as a city evolved. Significant events that influence the development of Paris are explored in detail, and Rutherfurd is a master of explaining historical and political nuance through natural-sounding dialogue. I thoroughly enjoyed the fact that the book, while grounded in fact, does not get bogged down in explication and description. The pace of the book is fast, the scope is breath-taking, and the ambition is extraordinary. Although a sizeable book to contemplate, the writing is crisp. Rutherfurd does a spectacular job of developing a complex narrative that explores how political forces, social influence, and practical expediency all conspired to make the Paris of today a reality.
Any current fan of Rutherfurd is bound to enjoy this book; while it departs from employing a linear timeline, doing so helps to demonstrate the degree to which a number of complex influences are inextricably tied together. Those who love the city itself are bound to discover new perspectives and previously unknown facts of how Paris as a city evolved. And any reader who appreciates a complex and intriguing drama is bound to delight in the complex characterizations and compelling narrative that underlie this extraordinary book. While Paris is by no means light reading, it is a spectacular book that will distract and delight over many days. At no point will this time feel like a wasted investment.
- Mark Mullaly