Eric writes, “I’m currently trying to outline an historical novel, and so by my bed right now are two excellent examples of the genre, Ken Follett’s Pillars of the Earth and its sequel World Without End. Granted, they probably wouldn’t be considered literature by reviewers at the New York Times, but who cares? They’re great reads.
They tell an engaging story simply, in simple language that I find particularly appropriate for late-night reading, when my brain’s largely fried. The two novels together—2,000 pages of small type—tell the stories of several generations of people living in and around Kingsbridge, in England, from the 12th through the 14th centuries.
The anchor for the tales is the building of a cathedral in Kingsbridge. The cathedral itself functions rather like a character, as it endures threats and defeats, rising slowly through the decades in fits and starts, the heart of a community. I’ve just finished the Pillars and now am reading World. They’re terrific.
Also by my bed is Elizabeth Kostova’s The Historian. It’s next. It’s not exactly an historical novel, since it’s set more or less in the present day, but there are flashbacks, as well as vampires. I don’t plan to read Kostova’s novel for the vampires. Rather, I’m interested in seeing how she constructs a story around flashbacks. My novel’s going to have flashbacks, too, but no vampires, though I guess that runs counter to market forces these days and if I had any sense, I’d throw some in. Zombies, too. But Follett’s novels are also devoid of vampires, as such. They are, rather, full of kings and princes and earls and church officials who act like vampires in the way they prey on the peasants.