In another beautifully written piece of historical fiction, Edward Rutherfurd has done it again creating a masterpiece surrounding The world’s most romantic city, Paris. This work is a departure of Rutherford’s earlier ones in that it does not move chronologically. Instead Rutherford jumps back and forth in time tracing the history of Paris from the Middle Ages to the Second World War and following the families that are affected.
Ruthurford has received criticism for falling into a formula, where he follows a set number of families and follows them throughout history. The jumping back-and-forth in time is probably to remedy this, but it makes it difficult to develop characters and readers can get easily lost.
Ruthurford has also received criticism due to the fact that his novels are not really stories, but rather histories with a narrative attached. For instance characters’ introduced are often clichés and their motivations are expected. (The high-born de Cygnes are pitted against the lowborn Le Sourds throughout the entire book) I don’t really find this to be problematic as some however, as this strategy provides the reader with a well rounded view of the Paris at any given time period.
With historical fiction like this there is a fine line to tread. Is the novel going to be too focused on the historical side? (Rutherford does seem to love the history of architecture and often spends lengthy passages describing buildings that have no affect on the plot) or do you rely heavily on a narrative to move through a story? Rutherford is writing in a very particular genre (one that Ken Follett is also writing in) and that is of the historical epic. The criticism that Rutherford has received can be applied to the genre itself, and not particularly to his writing.
For me, what made this novel so superb was the segment devoted to the Second World War. Personally I have always felt that Paris during WWII had a certain romanticism to it, with the Vichy regime and the French Underground and resistance. Rutherfurd took the heroic stories of the Resistance to the extreme and I absolutely loved it. I kind of wish that part of the story was its own novel, but again, that’s just me.