Book: Edge of Eternity
Author: Ken Follett
My dearest avid readers, I must begin by being dreadfully honest. I really delayed posting the review of this book. In fact I finished reading ‘Edge of Eternity’ more than two weeks ago, and yet I procrastinated in putting up this review. Why? I was terribly disappointed. Ken Follett is by far one of my favourite authors. Prior to this novel, the century trilogy were a collection of some of my favourite books of all time, full of tales of war, mystery, action, love, history and of course suspense- to keep any reader captivated for a period of time. Although this instalment of the series, was in itself rich in all the previously mentioned characteristics of a great book, indeed at some stages I could not put the book down. However it lacked some of the richness of its predecessors. It felt almost as if Follett himself did not write the book as it was so unlike the previous two novels, in tone and political stance. The ending of the book was quite rushed and I found major historical players were left out, due to the author’s obsession in the promotion of all things liberal and putting down of all things conservative.
Perhaps my disappointment was also due to the topic of the story itself, where the first two novels in the series covered the first and second world war respectively, this novel traced the major political events of the world from 1961-1987, so events such as the Cold War, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the fall of Communism, the assassinations of John and Bobby Kennedy, also that of Martin Luther King, the freedom riders and the battle for civil rights, the Hippy movement, the birth of Rock and Roll etc. were covered. Although these subjects were quite interesting to read about, and the terrible events and issues that occurred in these times were cruel and horrific and truly would blow anyone’s mind. I must however, admit it is not a period of history to which I was quite knowledgeable or interested in before. So as result I did not really find myself connecting properly to the story. I would also like to point out that even though I am not of a political mind at all, I could pick up on the biased views of the author in regards to the Republican Party in the USA. Follett clearly is not a fan, and regularly villainizes past Republican presidents of the USA such as Reagan and Nixon. This is all fine and well, but it was done by the author to such an extent that I felt a bit sorry for these characters, I’m sure they weren’t innocent of the crimes Follett mentions, but I found myself yelling at the book and the author to just ‘get on with the story’. Instead of focusing so much on these two political leaders, I would have liked to have seen much more of the political scene in England during this era for example, Margaret Thatcher’s influence (the period of the ‘Troubles’ was completely ignored), the race to space between the USA and Russia, etc. I realise that it is already a large book, but upon finishing it I felt that it concentrated too much on the events in the USA (although an interesting portrayal of John F. Kennedy, it was a bit long winded) and not enough on other countries.
This instalment of the series followed the third generation of the families introduced in the first and second instalments of the series. As there are so many characters within these books, I unfortunately will not be able to delve into each story line, but I will say that each character witnesses each major political upheaval, and each character is connected to another whether through family ties or connections to past characters in the previous two books. I was deeply disappointed that certain characters from past instalments did not get much limelight in this novel. For example, I loved the Daisy/ Llyod Williams characters in the second novel, and ok I understand that they were never going to have big roles in this book, but I really expected more of these characters. Even the idea that Llyod is the stuffy/stiff/ disapproving British father goes against how he was characterised in the previous novel.
In fact I will go so far to say I did not enjoy this generation of characters at all. They lacked the fiery/strong natures of their ancestors. I found a lot of the women characters to be insipid compared to their predecessors. I took issue with Maria Summers as a character, it was as if Follet wasn’t sure where he wanted her storyline to go, and her dalliance with JFK was not believable to me at all. The male characters were thoroughly unlikeable and boring at times, from the self important George Jakes (who probably had the biggest story line arc in the book, unfortunately in my opinion) and his fight for civil rights and career in the white house, to the horrible Jasper Murray (intent on standing on anyone in order to further himself career wise) and not forgetting the twisted Hans Hoffman and yawn-inducing Cameron Dewar (very sad that Woody and Bella Dewar produced this son, could have been characterised much better). The love stories in the novel were constantly riddled with unhappiness, and I know that realistically it suited the time and era, but it did not make for an easy read. It did not make me connect to the characters and quite frankly I did not care what happened to any of them by the end of the book, such was my disappointment.
Sex, drugs and rock and roll were to the fore in this novel, which are portrayed quite efficiently by the characters of Dave Williams, and Walli Franck. The downward spiral caused by success and money for rock and roll bands was perfectly captured and characterised by Walli Franck in particular, as he struggles to find his place in the world whilst separated from his own family and a daughter he may never know. Sex and free love is rampant in this book, perhaps a tad too much. Freedom of love, as was quite realistic for the era of the sixties, was overplayed and one did get sick of characters being cheated on towards the end of the book. Women in this novel were portrayed as vain, selfish, lustful characters intent on causing the ruin of males (I’m slightly joking with this comment, but one could easily take up the portrayal of women this way). Even the portrayal of JFK wasn’t free from this cynicism, with JFK being portrayed almost as a sexual deviant, seducing every woman he came across and even a disturbing seduction scene in Jackie-O’s bedroom which was a bit uncomfortable to say the least. There was also a completely ludicrous scene in which the twin brother and sister from Russia in the book were quite happy to stand naked in each other’s presence, and knew everything about each other in intimate details, not sexually, but it implied a certain innuendo, which as a twin myself, I found not only uncomfortable but slightly offensive. I mean really, what on earth was Follett striving for? Actually, In terms of relationships and marriages in the novel, I constantly found myself wondering aloud if any character would end up happily ever after at all.
Certain story lines were left unfinished also, for example the character of Vasili Yenkov, who wrote dissident novels which were smuggled out of the country by Tanya Dvorkin, while he was being held in a Russian work camp in Siberia, for daring to speak out against Communism. These novels win critical acclaim around the world, and we regularly hear the character of Tanya Dvorkin complain how she wished Vasili could one day be able to be recognised as the man who wrote these famous books and receive the royalties for them. The book ends with no mention of the fate of this character, who was in my opinion perhaps one of the most interesting characters in the story. Even huge characters from the first novel, Maud and Grigori, do not have an effective ending as I would see fit for such amazing characters of their calibre. A shame that Follett did not make a bigger deal with their roles. Even the eventual reunion of the Franck family, separated for more than two decades by the Berlin Wall and their inability to escape East Germany, is quite anti-climatic at the end of the book.
I do realise that all the above is quite negative and some might question why I gave this book a rating of 7/10 if I’m critiquing it so deeply. I would have given it 6.5/10 to be honest, but my love of Ken Follett prevented me from doing so, plus it is not actually a terrible read. The good, fast moving stages of the novel are quite entertaining and as previously stated, there were times I could not put the book down. Most novels have positives and negatives after all, so although there were many positives also to this book, unfortunately the negatives outweighed them. Regardless Ken Follett is an amazing writer but unfortunately this book does not really showcase this. He also is a fantastic historian and in other books of his I have been thoroughly riveted by the sheer amount of knowledge he has on certain historical topics. Unfortunately in this book this wonderful knowledge and genius (although exceedingly mind blowing on certain topics such as that of East Germany and the plight of the civil rights movement) of his is overshadowed by his own political biases.
In previous novels in the series, Follett’s opinions weren’t as apparent, but in this novel, his beliefs are literally shoved down the reader’s throat left, right and centre in regards to Democrats vs Republicans. I hope I do not offend any of my readers in this opinion of mine. Please believe me when I say I am not politically minded at all, I have very little knowledge on American politics, however it is extremely rare that I am able to pick up on the political affiliation of authors in their books, as it wouldn’t be something my mind would register. So this is why my point is being repeated time and time again. I love historical fiction, I live for it. What I do not love however is politics, unfortunately I’m just not made that way, so this heavy political agenda in this novel, did not appeal to be as a result, and hindered my reading experience. In my reading experience, this novel was much more complicated than its predecessors.
On a final note I will say that this review has not been the best I have ever written as I am literally in turmoil over writing a negative review on a Ken Follett book. For those who are fans of the Cold War era or the civil rights movement in the United States and are liberal democrats, then this is the book for you. For those of you readers, who like me, understand nothing when it comes to politics, this may not be the best reading option. I would also like to highlight that I am an avid Ken Follett fan and I eagerly await his next book whatever it is and whenever it will be released, with the utmost excitement. It is an unfortunate end to a first-class, sensational book series. Nonetheless, I have no doubt I will pick up this book series, time and time again to re-read over my lifetime, but perhaps not this instalment.
As always I look forward to any opinions/comments from readers,
The Avid Reader 🙂