Monday, February 08, 2021
A jaunt into Saxon England
by Ben Soton
The Evening and The Morning by Ken Follett, Publisher: Macmillan (2020). Hardback: 832pp, RRP £25. Paperback: 912pp, RRP £9.99. Kindle: 712pp, file size 1203 KB, RRP £9.99.
Ken Follet’s latest novel, The Evening and The Morning is a prequel to his 1989 book The Pillars of the Earth. The two novels have both obvious similarities as well as differences. The Pillars of the Earth was set in the early 12th Century and focused around the building of a cathedral in the fictional town of Kingsbridge in south-west England. It was set to the backdrop of the Anarchy, a civil-war between rival claimants to the English throne; where the god-fearing people of Kingsbridge were caught in the middle.
The Evening and The Morning is set in the same location but almost two hundred years earlier starting in 997AD. This was the end of the Dark Ages, a period when Anglo-Saxon England was still suffering from Viking raids and the feudal system was not fully developed. Social relations were somewhat confused. Slavery still existed; whilst there was also evidence of men having multiple wives (polygamy) and women with multiple husbands (polyandry). The latter being a feature of primitive communism. Meanwhile the power of the Church had not been fully established; which explains the tolerance of a variety of marital practices. England was in a process of cultural shift; from part of Scandinavia towards Continental Europe; a process completed by the Norman Conquest in 1066.
Follet’s politics are that of the Extreme Centre; which ranges from the Blairite and now Starmerite wing of the Labour Party to the pro-Remain wing of the Tory Party and encompasses miscellaneous grouping such as the Lib-Dems and Change UK. They accept the system has one or two faults which can be rectified if you had more honest and competent people running it. Sometimes better people should be allowed to rise up through the ranks replacing less competent people at the top. However, under no circumstances should the system itself be challenged. This world view is regularly represented in his novels.
The author successfully describes 10th Century England; the brutality of slavery, hypocrisy on the part of some of the clergy, rampant corruption and constant fear of attack. This is the world the three main characters find themselves drawn into. Ragna, a Norman noblewoman married to an Anglo-Saxon lord; Edgar, a craftsman with entrepreneurial skills and Aldred, a monk with a desire to root out corruption with the Church. These three characters find their own ways at improving the system from within. As the story progresses, they find their lives increasingly draw together.
The Evening and The Morning can on one hand be seen as Game of Thrones set to the backdrop of actual historical events. Equally it has parallels with more modern stories of uncovering corporate malpractice and putting things to right; without actually challenging the corporation itself. Little do the participants of this story know that in less than a century the corporation known as Anglo-Saxon England will soon be subject to a hostile takeover in the name of the Norman Conquest in 1066.