Fall of Giants, by Ken Follett

Article published on August 1, 2011.

Love of money is not the root of all evil. Pride is way ahead of it in the list. Pride of people or pride of nations, pride beats the love of money hands down. Pride drives most of the events in this book.

Like one of the great Russian novels Fall of Giants has a wide cast and much of the book is about their sometimes moving relationships and entanglements across class and nationality set in the backdrop of the First World War and its aftermath. The action swirls around two families from the South Wales mining town of Aberowen, Williams and Fitzherbert, miners and aristocrats, in the period from nineteen eleven to nineteen twenty four.

The Fitzherberts and their cousins give us access to the upper circles of British society and the political thinking of the Russian, Austrian and German leaders. The Williams bring us the world from below, the servants in the great house, miners and their families, the soldiers in the Great War and revolutionaries in Russia.

The life of the book comes through these characters, not the incidents that befall them. Their reactions, their views and their attitudes define this novel. Its a bit cliched with its bigoted and narrow minded union members, its ignorant and intolerant aristocrats, the high-minded suffragettes and revolutionary Russians but all this enhances rather than hinders the story. You already know where everyone’s coming from so there need be few pauses to explain it.

In places the storyline seems contrived and the flow uneven, a force fit of characters into historical incidents so that an intermingling of their lives with real global history can be achieved. The action is never vivid; even, or perhaps especially, when main characters are involved the events are observed much more than they are experienced. None of this detracts from this book though, and delivering fifteen years of history through six main characters is a fine achievement.

This is not a tragedy and Ken Follett is no Thomas Hardy. When it seems that things just can’t get any worse, they get better. When the worst seems to happen it turns out to be a blessing in disguise. When the anticipated nightmare comes it turns out to be no more than a bad dream. This is a feel-good novel and I eagerly await the second installment of this trilogy of the twentieth century.

 

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