Edge of Eternity (The Century Trilogy) by Ken Follett

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Edge of Eternity (The Century Trilogy) by Ken Follett

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Category: Historical Fiction
Rating: 3/5
Reviewer: Ani Johnson
Reviewed by Ani Johnson
Summary: The last of Mr F's Century of Giants Trilogy takes us from the 1960s to Berlin wall's demise and beyond. Follett fans will be divided, Follett ambivalentii will knock it but whichever way you lean, if judged selectively, the trilogy's quite an achievement.
Buy? No Borrow? Yes
Pages: 1,004 Date: September 2014
Publisher: Macmillan
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-0230710160

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The story baton is passed to the next generation as the swinging 60s arrive for people like Dave Williams. For others such as Rebecca Hoffmann and Walli Franck, living in East Germany means other priorities and, indeed, worries. What the Hoffmann-Francks don't realise is that things are about to get a lot worse, partially due to the treacherous influence of someone they all once trusted. Meanwhile in America George Jakes has ideals and strong convictions that will take him past the metaphorical draw bridge into the echelons of a modern day Camelot. What of the Dvorkin twins in Russia? Tania and Dimka may have differing ideas on how to effect change but storm clouds are hanging over them - and the rest of the world - as an island off the coast of America gathers prominence.

I really feel I should start this review by asserting that I am actually a big Ken Follett fan and have loved so much of his previous work. I even admire his intention of writing a mammoth hist fict encompassing the violent and world-changing vacillations of the 20th century but for me this trilogy (and this third instalment in particular) hasn't been his finest hour. For me it's very much 'good…but…'

There are moments when I engage with the characters (the Freedom Ride bus ridden by civil rights activists through the southern states for instance) but some of the occupants of Book 3 seem more like windows through which Ken accesses historical events rather than fleshed out people. His other problem has been getting a character in place for each huge historical moment; a task he accomplishes with varying success.

Ok, George as a young black American with a heart for justice would be right in the middle of the civil rights struggle and his government position would give him access to the Kennedys. (Ken also demonstrates graphically how awful the brothers were behind the scenes.) However, sending a Russian dissident to Cuba as a punishment feels like a contrivance to coincide with the missile crisis.

The clunks continue into the narrative which, at times, has the clipped tone of a documentary voice-over rather than the flow of fictionalised history. Also the amount of bed hopping sometimes counts against him. I'm not a prude and it does fit in with the era, but any sympathy we previously had for some of the main characters vanishes in favour of their more bit-part partners and spouses.

It's not all bad though; there are some shocks and revelations to reward those of us who have been there for all 2,796 pages. (Amazon stopped counting pages for this final novel at 600-and-something but there are actually over 1,000 so start strengthening those wrists!)

Ken's writing comes alive when he switches to dialogue and occasionally (as in the escape attempts over the Berlin Wall) we see the hand of the man who thrilled us with Eye of the Needle and The Key to Rebecca (just not often enough for the biblical length of the novel). He builds up the tension as he fires our imaginations with a picture of life under the East German Stasi, fused with the horror and fear engendered by the victims' limited options.

Edge of Eternity is packed with historical moments that, when gathered in one place, surprised me that so much has happened in my lifetime. (I was five on the day that JFK was shot so my party acts as a cast iron alibi.) It also ends on a double-high, giving us a warm feeling to close with. However on the whole this final instalment doesn't do the great man ('great' meant sincerely) any favours. This final book ties up loose ends so should be read. However, if we want to remember the trilogy fondly, we should perhaps concentrate on the magic moments it's related rather than the whole.

(Thank you, Macmillan, for providing us with a copy for review.)

Further Reading: You'd be missing out on the experience if you haven't read the first and second of this ambitious series. If you already have and you fancy another family saga, we heartily recommend Csardas by Diane Pearson for a Hungarian twist on the 20th century.

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Buy Edge of Eternity (The Century Trilogy) by Ken Follett at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Edge of Eternity (The Century Trilogy) by Ken Follett at Amazon.com.


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