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New York by Edward Rutherford

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New York by Edward Rutherford

Post by lauragill » Mon January 30th, 2012, 3:46 am

I am a fan of Rutherford's other books, including the awesome Sarum, The Princes of Ireland, and London, and the slightly less awesome but still good Russka, so I was hoping to find more of the same in this 780 page book about New York.

Not so. Rutherford writes like he phoned this book in. Nowhere else are his characters so flat, and his narrative such an info-dump, as here. Sure, he's got 350 years of history to condense into roughly 800 pages, but in Sarum he managed to convey 10,000 years of history in 1000 pages, and 2000 years in about 900 pages in London, and those books were page-turners, so he really has no excuse here.

Rutherford also misses many opportunities to get inside the characters and make me feel for them, and his oft-used plot device, an object which is handed down through the centuries, falls flat here; it comes across more as an afterthought than an object with actual meaning.

Twists and turns are not really surprising. He could have done so much more to bring out the pathos of events like the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire and doesn't.
I wonder whether Rutherford is getting tired of his own formula. That said, skip this book.

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Post by Margaret » Sun February 12th, 2012, 7:46 pm

Some readers relish sweep-of-history novels like these and others (like me) usually don't care for them. It's very, very hard, I think, to flesh out characters when they're only going to be present in a novel for a few chapters, so the characterization in novels like these tends to be pretty flat. There also is not much space for weaving texture and intricacy into a story that will be supplanted a few chapters later for another story about a different group of descendants many years later. While short stories can contain a lot of texture and depth and subtlety, the kind of writer who does this type of thing with short stories is usually a literary writer who probably writes contemporary fiction and wouldn't touch a sweep-of-history novel with a ten-foot pole. (An exception, though she hasn't written sweep-of-history, is Andrea Barrett, whose outstanding short story collection Ship Fever - see review - is mostly historical short stories.)

That said, I quite liked Rutherfurd's New York, myself (see review). I felt there was more continuity and storytelling flair in it than in the usual sweep-of-history novel. But it's been a while since I read any of his other books, so I'm not really able to compare. I remember enjoying both Sarum and Russka a lot.
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