Historical Musings #38: Reading Edward Rutherfurd

Welcome to my monthly post on all things historical fiction. For the last few months, I have been looking at the work of some of my favourite historical fiction authors; having previously featured Elizabeth Chadwick and Anya Seton, this month it’s the turn of a very different author: Edward Rutherfurd.

Edward Rutherfurd is the pseudonym of Francis Edward Wintle, born in Salisbury, England in 1948. His first novel, Sarum, was published in 1987, and since then he has written seven others, with a new one expected in 2019. Rutherfurd’s novels all follow a very similar format; they each tell the story of several families who live in one particular country, city or region over a period of many years. Sarum, for example, is set in and around the city of Salisbury; it begins in prehistoric times, then moves forward a few generations with each chapter, bringing us right up to the 1980s, and in this way, we watch the entire history of the city (and of England) unfold. His most recent book, Paris, is slightly different from the others as instead of moving forward chronologically in time, the narrative jumps backwards and forwards from one century to another, and although I didn’t find this as effective it did make a change!

As you can imagine, covering so much history means Rutherfurd’s novels are very long – most of them have around 1,000 pages, which I’m sure will put a lot of people off reading them. However, the way in which they are structured makes each novel feel almost like a collection of interrelated short stories, so once you start to read they are not quite as daunting as they seem! I have read all of his novels and own all of them apart from New York, which I borrowed from the library and didn’t like enough to want to buy my own copy.

Sarum (1987)
Russka (1991)
London (1997)
The Forest (2000)
Dublin: Foundation (2004)
Ireland: Awakening (2006)
New York (2009)
Paris (2013)

Of these, my favourites are Sarum, Russka and the two books set in Ireland. His new book, which I think should be coming next year, is apparently going to be about the history of China and I’m sure it will be another fascinating read.

You can find out more about Edward Rutherfurd and his work at his official website.

I will be looking at another historical fiction author in next month’s post, but for now:
Have you read any of Edward Rutherfurd’s novels? Which are your favourites?

38 thoughts on “Historical Musings #38: Reading Edward Rutherfurd

    • Helen says:

      I enjoyed all of his books, but they did take a long time to read. I read most of them years ago, before I started blogging, and I think I must have had more patience then!

    • par1000chemins says:

      Hi! I’ve read everything by Rutherfurd, in English and in French, as he is my favorite author. I have not read “Paris” yet, however, because I was waiting for a French version. I’m told that the novel was not a success, so it’s not available in French. For me, “London” is the best one, the first I read and got me hooked on long historical fiction.

      • Helen says:

        I’m sorry you haven’t been able to read Paris yet. I thought it was interesting, but probably my least favourite of his books. London is a great one, though!

  1. Carmen says:

    I read a good chunk of The Princes of Ireland when it first came out, but I put it aside because of its length. The amount I read, I loved. I started reading Russka about three years ago, but after a month of reading I was still in page 200, thus I told myself that I was going to need at least six months to finish without reading anything else, and that one too, despite being engrossing, I put it aside. I own most of his novels, except The Forest and Paris. The Ireland saga in US is called The Princes of Ireland and The Rebels of Ireland; I own them both in hardcovers with beautiful jacket covers, of the others I own the Kindle versions. 🙂

    • Helen says:

      I prefer the US titles for the Ireland books – it makes it clearer that they are volumes 1 and 2 of the same story. I’m glad you loved what you read, even if you didn’t manage to finish.

    • Helen says:

      I found your comment in my spam folder for some reason, but yes, London and Russka are both great books! I’m hoping I’ll be able to say the same about the China one.

  2. Yvonne says:

    I’ve read two of Rutherford’s books, Sarum and Forest, which I enjoyed. I would like to read more but I’m not keen to commit to such lengthy novels. I’m still working up the courage to read War and Peace!

    • Helen says:

      His books are great, but the length does make them a big commitment. As for War and Peace, it took me nearly a year to read it (alongside other books), but I did enjoy it!

  3. Judy Krueger says:

    I read and loved both Sarum and Russka. I started the The Princes of Ireland (Dublin Foundation) but abandoned it pretty early on. I think I would do better with it now. My husband read and loved Sarum and London. I want to read Paris and London. The China book sounds intriguing. I think he is in the same league as James Michener when it comes to big sprawling historical fiction and I like his method. I am now going to your reviews of the last two books.

    • Helen says:

      Sarum and Russka are the two I liked best, although all of them are good. I can’t wait for his new book – I think Chinese history is fascinating.

  4. cirtnecce says:

    I am devoted to Edward Rutherford and I remembering stumbling on to New Forest and being excited to know that there is another author who wrote like James Michener! However I have to agree with you completely on Paris and New York. I did not really like Paris and even though I have been planning to read New York forever, I start and stop, and am not much enthused! However I am hoping the new book will revive my interest. My favorite Rutherford is London!

    • Helen says:

      I didn’t like the way Paris was structured – I would have preferred it to have been the same as his other books, moving forward in time with each chapter. New York was interesting, but not as strong as some of the others. London is a great book, though!

  5. Margaret says:

    Helen, I haven’t read anything by Edward Rutherfurd, but your post has got me interested. The mobile library is due here tomorrow and according to the library catalogue it has a copy of Paris on board – I’ll borrow it if it’s still there. The one I’d really like to read is The Forest – did you like it?

    • Helen says:

      The Forest isn’t one of my absolute favourite Rutherfurd novels, but yes, I did like it. I think it’s slightly shorter than some of his others, as well!

  6. Liz Dexter says:

    I’ve read and enjoyed (that exact same edition of) Sarum and London, and of the others, I would most like to read The Forest. They’re amazing books and yes, much more readable than you’d expect given the size.

  7. Elle says:

    I badly want to send him to customers who liked, e.g., Ken Follett, James Clavell, James Michener et al., but I’m worried the length will put them off! Very good to know that they read more like connected stories.

    • Helen says:

      Well, Follett, Clavell and Michener’s books are pretty long too…but yes, I think a lot of people would find the size of Rutherfurd’s novels daunting. Thinking of them as books of short stories does make them feel more manageable.

      • Elle says:

        Yes, I know… people aren’t very consistent, though – if they don’t know an author, they’ll often be wary even if they love other authors who do the same sort of thing!

  8. camillesbookishadventures says:

    I tried to read Russka but was put off by the complete change of characters from one chapter to the next. Perhaps I should have kept at it as I am really into Russian history. All his books sound interesting, although I have to admit the sheer size of them is a bit daunting.

    • Helen says:

      I loved Russka, but I understand why you were put off. It can be frustrating to feel that you’re just getting to know the characters when the chapter comes to an end and you have to start again with a completely different story. I find Russian history fascinating, so that was one of my favourites of his books, but yes, they are all interesting.

  9. Sandra says:

    I had a period of reading anything by Michener and loving it and I remember being so excited by the release of Sarum. Yet I never read it. That would have been the era of combining studying and young childhood followed by working and slightly older children… Books for pleasure fell off the radar for quite some time! I’ve always intended to get back to him; perhaps now is the time. Thanks for the nudge, Helen.

    • Helen says:

      He’s a similar type of author to Michener so if you like one I think there’s a good chance you will like the other. Sarum is one of my favourites by Rutherfurd, but it’s such a long book I can understand why a busy lifestyle would get in the way of reading it!

  10. Michelle Ann says:

    I first heard of Sarum when It was recommended to me by an American lumberjack! He said he couldn’t put it down, which sounded like a great recommendation. In spite of its length, it’s a very easy read and an engrossing story. I throughly enjoyed it, but I think that was mainly because I know and like English history. I did try one of the others, but found it less interesting as I was not as knowledgable about the subject.

    • Helen says:

      I find Edward Rutherfurd’s style very readable, despite the length of the books and the amount of information they contain. If you like English history, maybe you would enjoy his other books set in England – London and The Forest.

  11. www.rosesintherainmemoir.wordpress.com says:

    One winter several years ago I read — no, lived in — Edward Rutherford’s compelling RUSKA. So much history encompassing centuries held me spellbound. Even now, I am remembering scenes of the village and how religious and political events in faraway St. Petersburg affected the “simple folk” supposedly living independent lives. I’m not sure I read his IRISH PRINCES but it, too, should be a great long read, perhaps for summer.

    • Helen says:

      Russka is one of my favourite Edward Rutherfurd books! I knew very little about Russian history when I read it, so I found that I was learning a huge amount from it. The Irish Princes books are both great too.

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