Just finished the 1,000 page novel by Ken Follett, World Without End. Set in mid-to late-1300’s England, it traces the lives of 5 individuals from childhood to old age. Facing adversity, apathy, hunger, torture, abuse, and worst of all, the bubonic plague, Ken Follett brings the past to life in a very realistic format.
Through the key characters, Ken shows us that no matter how difficult, we must deal with our problems, face our fears, and above all, remain true to ourselves. While tied up maybe a little too neatly, the story does present a view of the everlasting nature of life. The ending is more of a life goes on routine than a denouement. While half of Europe’s population is devastated by the Plague, those that were immune or recovered from the ravages of the virus were the strong ones that carried on. The title is taken from a Catholic psalm: ‘Glory be to the Father, And to the Son, And to the Holy Ghost. As it was in the beginning, Is now, And ever shall me, World without end.’ And indeed, the story ends with exactly the feeling that the world is everlasting, despite the effects of people and disease.
We see the beginning of the Renaissance in the 40 years of the novel – Caris (a woman who wants to be a physician but becomes a nun to escape an indictment of witchery) ushers in a new form of medicine that relies not on understanding the humors of the body and bloodletting but on observation, deductive reasoning and rational thought. Her lover and finally husband, Merthin, brings glimmers of new architectural understanding to England’s small communities with innovative uses of cranes, octagonal topped structures, cofferdams around bridges, and again the use of deductive reasoning to understand the nature of buildings and their strength.
A great historical read, one that brings the past to life and feels all the more contemporary despite the passage of nearly 700 years.