Sunday, May 20, 2012

Sarum by Edward Rutherfurd

Sarum was my ginormous book to read this year, and like all good books that are huge, it took me awhile to read it.  But it was well worth the journey.

Sarum is about the Salisbury area of England, and this novel is about 10,000 years of history in that area.  Let me tell you--a lot of stuff goes on.  It is told in chunks of time that eventually focus on 5 families in the area, who are the descendants of the neolithic men who moved down to Sarum looking for a way over to the European continent--which at the time was a place with better hunting and more people.   Unfortunately, when they got to the coast, the land bridge had disappeared.  They were stuck on an island.  

But they were stuck in a pretty good spot.  There is so much to this area that I can only say that I must go there sometime soon so I can see it all for myself.  This novel is chock full of descriptions of the people, places, and lives they lived from neolithic times until the 1960's.  Each of the five families:  The Wilsons, Godfreys, Masons, Porters and the Shockleys appear in each story after the beginnings of the novel, as time goes by and Sarum goes through many changes:  from an desolate Roman outpost  where Roman soldiers intermarry with the local Celtic families, to the dark days of invasion and plague and the glorious building of Salisbury Cathedral.  What are my favorite parts of the novel?  Well, certainly the Roman times, when Sarum was known as Sorviodunum, and before that, when Stonehenge was built.  These two time periods were by far my favorite parts of the novel.  The building of the cathedral, and the fact that is took 50 years to build is told through the eyes of the original Mason--a young man who is determined to stay alive until the cathedral is finally finished.  For those people who can't stick with a job for even a few years, can you imagine working on the same project for 50?!  

There are some things about this novel that may turn people off, and those I understand.  The sheer time period is mind-boggling.  It is not a book you can put down for days, then pick up again.  There's too much going on and you'll quickly be thumbing back to remember what was going on.  And every 100 pages or so, a time period ends, you say goodbye to those characters, and move onto another time period--sometimes hundreds of years in the future.  So there is much "getting to know more characters" and in that respect, it's almost like this is a novel comprised of short stories linked together by one place.  It is a novel that will teach you everything about Salisbury, about families, and how we all carry the past within us--usually not even knowing what it is we carry within.  How well do we know our ancestors?  How much have we forgotten?  And Rutherfurd's amazing and detailed descriptions of the area throughout the novel really put you there, smelling, tasting, and experiencing each time period and its particular essence.  Some are more smelly than others.

I would recommend this novel to anyone who has an interest in history, loves historical fiction, and is willing to dedicate a few weeks to an amazing novel.  It really is fantastic.  I was happy to finally finish, but at the same time, I think back to all the characters, and feel a bit of nostalgia--that's my sign of a good book. 

Rating:  5/5 for sheer fantastic storytelling.  Don't be daunted by the size of the book, or the time frame.  Just take notes!


  1. That sounds like my kind of book. I'll have to keep an eye out for it next time I'm in a book store.

    1. You should find it in any bookstore, and probably find a used copy, too. Should be available in the library, too.

  2. I liked this review and linked to it from mine. The book made me want to visit that area, too!