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A good, but somewhat frustrating read
on 12 March 2017
I had read the author's "Sarum" some years ago, and enjoyed it so thought, just after a visit to the Museum of London, that I would try this. Generally I enjoyed it and certainly, despite its length, it held my interest. Rutherford spins a good yarn. He's a storyteller, and this book is full of good stories.
I did however find two things frustrating. The first was caused by the format of the book. The story begins about 220 bc, and advances to 1997 by numerous intermediate stops at different dates. There may be twenty five or more of these "chapters", each one describing the state and development of the city, and the lives of a number of families living in it at the time. This works well, up to a point. However, it takes some time to introduce characters and place them in their geographic, historic and social contexts. I found that I was just getting to know them and become interested in their stories when...... bang..... I was catapulted forward fifty or more years to the next chapter when most of them had disappeared and a new cast was on stage.
The second feature was that several families - Doggets, Bulls, Merediths, Pennys, Barnikels, Silversleeves - appear at various points in the history, and their descendants keep cropping up later, intermarrying, cheating each other in business deals, fighting for influence and money. By the 1500's I was becoming confused about the lineage and who had done what to whom back in Anglo-Saxon times; in the 1750's I had lost the plot completely; by World War One I had surrendered. I probably needed to pay more attention. Other readers may have more retentive memories. Some may need to keep notes.
All in all, a literary classic it ain't, but it is a good story and some of the history may rub off on you.