World Without End (Follett)

World Without End
Ken Follett, 2007
Penguin Group USA
1024 pp.

In 1989 Ken Follett astonished the literary world with The Pillars of the Earth, a sweeping epic novel set in twelfth-century England centered on the building of a cathedral and many of the hundreds of lives it affected. Critics were overwhelmed—“it will hold you, fascinate you, surround you” (Chicago Tribune)—and readers everywhere hoped for a sequel.

World Without End takes place in the same town of Kingsbridge, two centuries after the townspeople finished building the exquisite Gothic cathedral that was at the heart of The Pillars of the Earth. The cathedral and the priory are again at the center of a web of love and hate, greed and pride, ambition and revenge, but this sequel stands on its own. This time the men and women of an extraordinary cast of characters find themselves at a crossroad of new ideas— about medicine, commerce, architecture, and justice. In a world where proponents of the old ways fiercely battle those with progressive minds, the intrigue and tension quickly reach a boiling point against the devastating backdrop of the greatest natural disaster ever to strike the human race—the Black Death.

Three years in the writing, and nearly eighteen years since its predecessor, World Without End breathes new life into the epic historical novel and once again shows that Ken Follett is a masterful author writing at the top of his craft. (From the publisher.)

Author Bio
Birth—June 5, 1949
Where—Cardiff, Wales, UK
Education—B.A., University College, London
Awards—(see below)
Currently—lives in Hertfordshire, England

Kenneth Martin Follett is a Welsh author of thrillers and historical novels who has sold more than 150 million copies of his works. Many of his books have reached number 1 on the New York Times Best Seller list, including Edge of Eternity, Fall of Giants, A Dangerous Fortune, The Key to Rebecca, Lie Down with Lions, Triple, Winter of the World, and World Without End.

Early years
Follett was born in Cardiff, Wales, the first child of four children, to Martin Follett, a tax inspector, and Lavinia (Veenie) Follett. Barred from watching films and television by his Plymouth Brethren parents, he developed an early interest in reading but remained an indifferent student until he entered his teens. His family moved to London when he was ten years old, and he began applying himself to his studies at Harrow Weald Grammar School and Poole Technical College.

He won admission in 1967 to University College London, where he studied philosophy and became involved in center-left politics. He married his wife Mary in 1968, and their son was born in the same year. After graduating in the autumn of 1970, Follett took a three-month post-graduate course in journalism, working as a trainee reporter in Cardiff on the South Wales Echo.  A daughter was born in 1973.

After three years in Cardiff, Follett returned to London as a general-assignment reporter for the Evening News. He eventually left journalism for publishing, having found it unchallenging, and by the late 1970s became deputy managing director of the small London publisher Everest Books.

During that time, Follett began writing fiction as a hobby during evenings and weekends. Later, he said he began writing books when he needed extra money to fix his car, and the publisher's advance a fellow journalist had been paid for a thriller was the sum required for the repairs. Success came gradually at first, but the 1978 publication of Eye of the Needle, became an international bestseller and sold over 10 million copies, earning Follett wealth and international fame.

Each of Follett's subsequent novels, some 30, has become a best-seller, ranking high on the New York Times Best Seller list. The first five best sellers were fictional spy thrillers. Another bestseller, On Wings of Eagles (1983), is a true story based on the rescue of two of Ross Perot's employees from Iran during the 1979 revolution.

Kingsbridge series
For the most part, Follett continued writing spy thrillers, interspersed with historical novels. But he usually returned to espionage. Then in 1989, Follett surprised his readers with his first non-spy thriller, The Pillars of the Earth (1989), a novel about building a cathedral in a small English village during the Anarchy in the 12th century.

Pillars was wildly successful, received positive reviews, and stayed on the New York Times Best Seller list for 18 weeks. All told, (internationally and domestically), it has sold 26 million copies and even inspired a 2017 computer game by Daedalic Entertainment of Germany.

Two sequels followed a number of years later — in 2007 and 2017. World Without End (2007) returns to Kingsbridge 200 years after Pillars and focuses on lives devastated by the Black Death. A Column of Fire (2017), a romance and novel of political intrigue, is set in the mid-16th century — a time when Queen Elizabeth finds herself beset by plots to dethrone her.

Century trilogy
Follett initiated his Century trilogy in 2010. The series traces five interrelated families — American, German, Russian, English and Welsh — as they move through world-shaking events, beginning with World War I and the Russian Revolution, up through the rise of the Third Reich and World War II, and into the Cold War era and civil-rights movements.

A number of Follett's novels have been made into movies and TV mini series. Eye of the Needle was made into an acclaimed film, starring Donald Sutherland. Seven novels have been adapted as mini-series: The Key to Rebecca, Lie Down with Lions, On Wings of Eagles, The Third Twin (rights were sold for a then-record price of $1,400,000), The Pillars of the Earth, World Without End, and A Dangerous Fortune.

Follett also had a cameo role as the valet in The Third Twin and later as a merchant in The Pillars of the Earth.

2013 - Grand Master at the Edgar Awards (New York)
2012 - Que Leer Prize-Best Translation (Spain) - Winter of the World
2010 - Libri Golden Book Award-Best Fiction (Hungary) - Fall of Giants
2010 - Grand Master,  Thrillerfest (New York)
2008 - Honorary Doctor of Literature - University of Exeter
2007 - Honorary Doctor of Literature - University of Glamorgan
2007 - Honorary Doctor of Literature - Saginaw Valley State University
2003 - Corine Literature Prize (Bavaria) - Jackdaws
1999 - Premio Bancarella Literary Prize (Italy) - Hammer of Eden
1979 - Edgar Award-Best Novel - Eye of the Needle

Personal life
During the late 1970s, Follett became involved in the activities of Britain's Labour Party when he met the former Barbara Broer, a Labour Party official. Broer became his second wife in 1984.

Follett, an amateur musician, plays bass guitar for Damn Right I Got the Blues. He occasionally plays a bass balalaika with the folk group Clog Iron. (Adapted from Wikipedia. Retrieved 10/4/2017.)

Book Reviews
The millions of readers who enjoyed Ken Follett's Pillars of the Earth (1989) will certainly enjoy its sequel, World Without End. While it would be grossly unfair to say that it's the same book with different characters, the similarities of structure give a definite feeling of deja vu.... The novel's greatest strength lies in its well-researched, beautifully detailed portrait of the late Middle Ages. Society at every level is here, mingling in an altogether convincing way. Follett shows the workings of politicians in all their corrupt glory, in both religious and temporal spheres. Of course, the best research in the world does not a story make, but Follett also comes through with a terrifically compelling plot.
Diana Gabaldon - Washington Post

Eighteen years after Pillars of the Earth weighed in with almost 1,000 pages of juicy historical fiction about the construction of a 12th-century cathedral in Kingsbridge, England, bestseller Follett returns to 14th-century Kingsbridge with an equally weighty tome that deftly braids the fate of several of the offspring of Pillars' families with such momentous events of the era as the Black Death and the wars with France. Four children, who will become a peasant's wife, a knight, a builder and a nun, share a traumatic experience that will affect each of them differently as their lives play out from 1327 to 1361. Follett studs the narrative with gems of unexpected information such as the English nobility's multilingual training and the builder's technique for carrying heavy, awkward objects. While the novel lacks the thematic unity of Pillars, readers will be captivated by the four well-drawn central characters as they prove heroic, depraved, resourceful or mean. Fans of Follett's previous medieval epic will be well rewarded.
Publishers Weekly

(Audio version.) Best known for such tightly plotted World War II thrillers as The Key to Rebecca and more contemporary suspense novels like The Third Twin, British author Follett returns to the West Country town of Kingsbridge, the setting for his huge historical epic, Pillars of the Earth, released in 1989. In Pillars, Follett uses the building of a cathedral to portray an England torn by civil war and strife that affects all levels of society. This long-awaited sequel opens 200 years later, in 1327, and continues the story of some of Jack's descendants against a backdrop of extreme change. The action centers around four children: Merthin, inventive and later a builder himself; Caris, the protofeminist, medically inclined daughter of the town alderman; Ralph, Merthin's younger bullying brother; and Gwenda, a child of a landless, thieving laborer. Venturing into the forest outside Kingsbridge, they witness an armed conflict, and Merthin learns about a secret letter. The novel explores their intersecting lives during the next three decades, with the worlds of religion, medicine, commerce, and politics vividly if disturbingly depicted in a manner reminiscent of James Clavell or Jean Auel. Actor and playwright John Lee brings a modulated, English-accented sensibility to this story; his voices add extra vitality to the narration but do not overpower it. Recommended for libraries with large historic fiction collections and those who like well-detailed historical narratives with straightforward characters whose speech is very 21st century. [Pillars of the Earth was an Oprah Book Club selection in 2007.]
David Faucheux - Library Journal

The peasants are revolting. Some, anyway. Others—the good-hearted varlets, churls and nickpurses of Follett's latest—are just fine. In a departure from his usual taut, economical procedurals (Whiteout, 2004, etc.), Follett revisits the Middle Ages in what amounts to a sort of sequel to The Pillars of the Earth (1989). The story is leisurely but never slow, turning in the shadow of the great provincial cathedral in the backwater of Kingsbridge, the fraught construction of which was the ostensible subject of the first novel. Now, in the 1330s, the cathedral is a going concern, populated by the same folks who figured in its making: intriguing clerics, sometimes clueless nobles and salt-of-the-earth types. One of the last is a resourceful young girl—and Follett's women are always resourceful, more so than the menfolk—who liberates the overflowing purse of one of those nobles. Her father has already lost a hand for thievery, but that's an insufficient deterrent in a time of hunger, and a time when the lords "were frequently away: at war, in Parliament, fighting lawsuits, or just attending on their earl or king." Thus the need for watchful if greedy bailiffs and tough sheriffs, who make Gwenda's grown-up life challenging. Follett has a nice eye for the sometimes silly clash of the classes and the aspirations of the small to become large, as with one aspiring prior who "had only a vague idea of what he would do with such power, but he felt strongly that he belonged in some elevated position in life." Alas, woe meets some of those who strive, a fact that touches off a neat little mystery at the beginning of the book, one that plays its way out across the years and implicates dozens of characters. A lively entertainment for fans of The Once and Future King, The Lord of the Rings and other multilayered epics.
Kirkus Reviews

Discussion Questions
1. Ken Follett fills World Without End with vivid descriptions of England in the fourteenth century. Which images or scenes stood out for you?

2. Family and familial duty are at the center of the book. Talk about the important, and sometimes detrimental, role that family plays in the lives of the main characters.

3. Discuss Caris and her vocation to heal. If she wasn’t forced into the convent, do you think her life would have taken a different path?

4. The book features dozens of colorful and intriguing characters, both at the heart of the story and at its edges. Which are some that come to mind? What made them memorable?

5. Why do you think Caris and Merthin’s love endured for as long as it did? Did their eventual marriage seem like it was well deserved? Why or why not?

6. “Caris was thinking...about the passage of time, and how it can change an innocent, beloved baby into a man who commits murder,” (page 922). Who are some characters who lost their innocence during the course of the book? How did they change?

7. What does the building of the tower and the bridge represent in the novel?

8. “Merthin said to Ralph: ‘When I grow up, I want to be like that knight—always courteous, never frightened, deadly in a fight.’ ‘Me, too,’ said Ralph. ‘Deadly.’” (page 27). Talk about Merthin and Ralph, and the men they eventually became. Did Merthin’s words come true? Did Ralph’s fate come as a surprise?

9. Rumor and innuendo have enormous influence over the lives of many characters in World Without End. Why does rumor hold so much power?

10. Discuss the role of religion in the book, specifically Christianity. Name some characters whose spirituality is genuine, as well as those who use religion for exploitative or ill reasons.

11. The women in the novel endure great hardship, yet exhibit strength and fortitude. Discuss some of the notable female characters. How do they persevere?

12. Talk about the impact of the plague on the main characters. Is there significance behind who lives and who dies?

13. Have you read The Pillars of the Earth, the author’s prequel to World Without End? If so, did it enhance your experience of the latter? How? If not, will you read The Pillars of the Earth?

14. Before you started reading World Without End, what did you know about medieval Europe? What are some of the things you’ve learned? Could you have lived in the Middle Ages?

15. What does the book’s title mean?
(Questions issued by publishers.)

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