World Without End is a beast of a book and as I have been lugging it around for the past fortnight I think I am justified in saying this. Set in Britain of the 1300s it begins with four very different children who witness two murders in the forest and follows them throughout theirs lives, detailing their loves, losses and the various trails and tribulations set to challenge them. The reader discovers how they cope with prosperous times and hard times, with war and with the merciless devastation of the plague. It is a large novel, with over 1000 pages, but it is gripping and compelling throughout.
It is always difficult when discussing such an epic tome to know where to begin or what parts in particular to focus on. If I were to write about everything I enjoyed I would be here forever, so I am going to focus on one character: Caris. Caris is one of the children who witnesses the murders and it is clear from the beginning that she doesn’t fit the stereotypically image of a medieval girl/woman. Caris dreams of being a doctor, something that a woman in that era would never achieve, however through sheer hardwork and determination she is able to defy expectations. From a pioneering tradeswoman to a reluctant nun, Caris’ journey throughout the novel particularly struck me for several reasons. Despite being deeply in love with Merthin – another of the four children – she refuses to conform to society and the expectation that she should marry, have children and become her husband’s property. I have had a few discussions recently about the whole idea of what is expected from a woman when she marries and how a traditional church service can sometimes be skewed, given the impression that women are still the inferior sex. I know that there have been changes to the vows and the archaic wedding values don’t hold much stead in modern society, but it is interesting to think about how these changes have come about.
World Without End is set in the fictional city of Kingsbridge, a city that was the focus for Follett’s early novel The Pillars of the Earth, although the latter is set two centuries earlier and focuses on the building of the cathedral. In places some characters from this earlier novel are mentioned but this is often in passing so it certainly isn’t necessary to have read The Pillars of the Earth, although I would recommend it as I read it a few summers ago and it was brilliant. This is a period in history I don’t know a great deal about and as always I love the opportunity to read something that broadens my understanding but does so in an exciting and easy to follow way, although I’m sure there are dedicated medieval historians who might quibble over the accuracy of some historical novels, I don’t care.
Both World Without End and The Pillars of the Earth have been made into TV programmes and I can remember watching World Without End each weekend without fail not long after I had moved in to my current flat. It was well made and I found the more I read, the more I remembered of the programme. Luckily both seem to be available on Lovefilm so I hope to get round to watching both of them soon.