I wasn’t sure how to title this post because I want to say, right from the very beginning, that this is not me panning any specific writer. In fact, quite the contrary. I’d love to get input from others as to what I may be missing. But (as so often happens) someone throws a book or three your way and says “just loved this book. You must read it.” I start reading and am left wondering “am I missing something here?” I read widely and enjoy many genres, but I’m baffled when friends send me books from NY Times bestselling authors and I can barely muddle through more than 200 pages before drifting away.
I confess this has happened to me many times, but my most recent puzzling disappointment is Ken Follett. I really looked forward to diving into Follett’s works. I began reading his book The Pillars of the Earth when I began my current project which takes place in 15th century Britain. Like Phillipa Gregory, I thought Follett would be great inspiration for the (general) time period and style I was striving for. Try as I might, I couldn’t get into his books. The characters felt shallow to me, the narrative plodding and somewhat predictable. Surely I was missing something as this book (according to the author’s website) continues to sell 100,000 paperback copies a year when it was written about 40 years ago.
I thought maybe I had chosen the wrong book. So a relative sent me Fall of Giants which is the first in Follett’s new “Century trilogy”. (Website excerpt: The first novel in the Century trilogy, it follows the fates of five interrelated families – American, German, Russian, English and Welsh – as they move through the world-shaking dramas of the First World War, the Russian Revolution, and the struggle for women’s suffrage.) This grabbed my attention immediately – I loved the idea of all the interrelated families from different countries coming together in one story.
Follett’s research is superb, his historical details fascinating. But the story simply does not grab me. Perhaps it’s because the narrative jumps from each family too quickly. You get one little action-packed “adventure” from each and then you’re jerked onto the next. You don’t feel like you really get to know any one character that well. And the feminist in the story “Lady Maud” seems underdeveloped. Everyone refers to her as a feminist but we don’t see her feminism in action beyond her single-minded pursuit of what we know will turn out to be a German spy.
Has anyone else struggled with Follett? Is there something I’m missing here? I’d love to really jump into these books but somehow I feel disappointed while I try to plow through them.