In the beginning, when I decided to read again, I was browsing through my Goodreads profile to check what review I had written about PILLARS OF THE EARTH and my eyes caught an announcement that Ken Follett is releasing his latest book: a prequel to PILLARS OF THE EARTH. Goddangit! Without intending to sound ungrateful for the literary blessing that is Ken Follett, still, how can he write a prequel after all these years with Kingsbridge series? Then my brain clicked. I should postpone re-reading PILLARS OF THE EARTH and wait for Mr Follett’s newest book to come out—which I did. I put the other three books in order on my shelf: PILLARS OF THE EARTH, WORLD WITHOUT END, and A COLUMN OF FIRE.
I was very patient. By that, I mean looking at the calendar every two days or so checking if the fifteenth of September is coming faster if I look at it often enough. Of course, being on the other side of the globe also means that the fifteenth of September on his side of the globe is the SIXTEENTH in my side of the globe.
I don’t remember much of what happened on the sixteenth, but I remember getting my digital copy of THE EVENING AND THE MORNING as soon as it was on the shelf. I was very determined to start my Kingsbridge project with this prequel. It’s a prequel for a reason, so I thought I should start with the 0.0 book.
Inside the World of The Evening & The Morning
Reading a book to me is akin to starting a journey or arriving at a new excavation site. The mind must be cleared and cleaned from any prejudice and preconceived ideas. Basic common sense is required but nothing more. I also realised that reading Ken Follett’s books requires absolute silence and certain quietness. I don’t know if it’s my OCD-like trait that prefers these elements or the fact that these books deserve total attention. No TV, no Lucifer series, no animated horror story channels playing on YouTube, no Whatsapp, no Facebook, no crocheting. Just me, the book, and a cup of coffee. The only thing acceptable to accompany me during my reading is either jazz or some Medieval music collections I found on YouTube. But sometimes, here, jazz can be distracting.
Remember when I said I was looking for historical fiction set in Lindisfarne? Guess what, the first chapter of THE EVENING AND THE MORNING was talking about a Viking raid to the village of Combe. Now, we all who read Ken Follett know that Kingsbridge and every location in the series are fictional and won’t be found in Google Maps. Nevertheless, the atmosphere of when the raid went on gave me a bit of a sense of what it would be like in Lindisfarne. I can say I kind of get what I want—not fully what I want, but kind of. That’s how the book started and I was instantly hooked. I couldn’t seem to put down the book and kept on flipping pages and pages until I realised that I am already in the middle of the book. There were minutes where I thought that I should put it down and let the previous chapters sink in for a bit before moving forward. But nope, I couldn’t. I can’t. I won’t. My brain was intrigued by whatever it is that Edgar is planning or how Ragna will finally hit the wall and what ingenious things she would do next.
People of The Evening & The Morning
There are too many characters to go on each of them, so I divided them into those I hate and those I don’t hate. Readers obviously can find Dreng, Gytha, Wynstan, Wighelm, and Garulf as vicious, annoying, conspiracy-ridden, hateful, despicable people. In the first instance, I immediately disliked Dreng. I had known Ken Follett’s style for a while, especially with the Kingsbridge series. I had guessed that he would not make it easy for each character’s journey from pages to pages. But I had never, ever, would have thought in a tiny bit that the sort of atrocious acts featured would include throwing a newborn to a cold river. As the event was unfolding, you can imagine how I shouted, I cried, and I cursed in my mother tongue. Dreng is such a—I can’t find any polite or impolite English word to complete this sentence. There is a word for him in my mother tongue, but I won’t say it. Wynstan’s character, on the other hand, I have met such a person in real life. Indeed, I disliked his vicious way of life but he got what he deserves in the end. In his own words, “That’s better.”
Based on the description, I had imagined Ragna looking like one of those Pre-Raphaelite paintings by Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Perhaps one that looks like Aurelia but with 990s attire. Although she probably is one of the main characters in this book, I cannot see her being as strong as she would like to be perceived. I favoured Mildred (Edgar’s mum) better as a portrayal of a strong woman character. Ragna for me is a princess with beauty and power and a sensible mind. That’s all. She’s no Morgaine but she’s more than Guinevere and certainly not Boudicca. Ragna has everything lined up for her since she was still in Cherbourg. I thought she’d be the character that grows up to be rebellious or reckless. But I’m also not disappointed that she turned out to enjoy her duties as a lady in reign, though. I can certainly relate to Aldred, not on his sexual preferences, but on how once an ambitious person can be diminished to nothing simply because daring to challenge the authorities. A passage from the book:
All the promise he had shown as armarius of Shiring, all the talk of his becoming abbot one day, had come to nothing. His ambitions—the school, the library, the world-class scriptorium—were now mere daydreams.
THE EVENING AND THE MORNING, Chapter 24.
The lesson here being: don’t be a smart-ass and challenge authorities. That’s the lesson I learned too, Aldred, though hopefully this feeling is temporary.
Wilwulf—I know from the very beginning he was just some ornamental Prince Charming type of character as there was no strong aura about him. As I was turning the pages, I kept wondering when will he be killed by Vikings or poisoned or whatnot. As soon as he appeared in the story, I thought he’d be dead soon and problems would follow to the people surrounding him. Yes, yes, he was dazzlingly passionate and amorous towards the first chapters when he met Ragna in Cherbourg but he had that ornamental feel to his character. He’s not the main character but also not the extra.
As a prequel on how Kingsbridge got its name, perhaps this book is satisfactory. I mean, rather than having the name as Dreng’s Ferry, of course, Kingsbridge is preferable. I love how the book explained carefully to me how a small river settlement (I imagined) with marshy bog grew larger and attracted more people and livelihood until it became a more complex habitation. In my opinion, it’s a perfect analogy or depiction for riverside settlement interpretation methods in archaeology. Good God, why do I always bring it there? Some characters aren’t as strong as I’d like them to be but I guess for the purposes of the story they’re suitable in each of their roles. I thought the characters were given fair amounts of story arcs to grow up since the first chapters.
There are not many palpable facts in THE EVENING AND THE MORNING, at least not that I can pinpoint on. It’s pure fiction and that is just how I like it. I believe the author deliberately changed Æthelred the Unready to Ethelred the Misled, though both did marry Emma de Normandie, daughter of Richard Ier de Normandie (a.k.a. Richard Sans-Peur). Now, I don’t know if Æthelred is also referred to as ‘the Misled’ in historical records. Other than these two, I believe other characters are as made up as Kingsbridge area itself—not that it matters. It’s a frikkin’ fiction.
I finished THE EVENING AND THE MORNING in eight days, reading cover-to-cover, as shown in my Goodreads’ Reading Activity Report. I loved getting lost in this book, forgetting that I am currently sitting in an unbearably humid, dry, and hot tropical country. Every description written of the setting reignited the dampness, the wetness, the greyness, the Englishness of England that I miss dearly. I sometimes feel that when Ken Follett came up with a character for his Kingsbridge stories, he’d immediately thought: how can I fuck this person’s life as miserable as possible. If there is a chart depicting my emotions throughout reading this book, the graph would show undulating lines depending on which chapter I’m in.
THE EVENING AND THE MORNING also contained today’s hot-buttoned issues which were addressed accordingly and written beautifully without having to shove it in the readers’ throats. I must say that this book is superbly written and is most suitable to my mood and my state of the psyche at the time. The first part of the book, I felt an emotion that I could only identify as smitten, and I don’t know why. Perhaps my English vocabulary isn’t rich enough to find the correct word for this emotion. But throughout the next part of the book, I bawled, and I cried real tears. All of this happened in one day, in one sitting.
Together with the other three, THE EVENING AND THE MORNING will be the book that I will treasure and re-read in the future. But please note that this book is not suitable for young readers–or I don’t know, maybe because this is the 21st-century and parents would be permissive enough to let teenagers read this book? Perhaps. All I want to say is: this book ain’t clean. Still an awesome read, though.
To Ken Follett: THANK YOU for yet another amazing book. I hope you will find more inspirations to write a heavy and detailed book like this series again.