The Novel of England (1983)
by Edward Rutherford (1948-)
This long book is really not a single novel, but a collection of novellas all set in the district around modern Salisbury, from neolithic times to the present day. Its interest for me is in the succession of cultures over this spot. Rutherford is perhaps less interested in this aspect than I am, but of course devotes some attention to it, in his way.
He uses an interesting device to bring some continuity to the story. From neolithic times a particular family is introduced, distinguished by long toes and fingers and cetain facial features, bound to the river, fishing and boats. Other families appear in the early chapters, with each wave of immigrants, and the interplay of successive generations adds interest to the book. Also, the successive building phases casually unearth artifacts left behind in earlier chapters.
Beginning with the Normans, I assume many of the facts are historically accurate. In fact, though, part of the thrust of the book is the extent to which the lives of individuals depend, for the most part, on their immediate surroundings and the history of their families. The grander sweep of historical forces seldom intrudes on the lives of individuals and families.
The book is well worth reading (hardcover recommended, since the softcover edition must have very small type).
[While looking up Rutherford’s birthdate, I found that he was born in Salisbury.]