The last of my Christmas books was The Evening and the Morning by Ken Follett, the prequel to The Pillars of the Earth (see my blog), which I hugely enjoyed it when I read it a few years ago and which led me on to Follett’s Century Trilogy (see my blogs on Fall of Giants, Winter of the World and The Edge of Eternity). The Evening and the Morning was over 800 pages of perfect escapism, back to the year 997, when the Vikings were busy regularly raiding the south of England, where the book is set.
It starts with Edgar, a boatbuilder, sneaking off early one morning from the home he shares with his parents and brothers, to meet his lover and to leave for a new life together. But within the first 20 pages Sunni, Edgar’s lover, is killed by the Vikings and he is left to start a new life with his mother and siblings, inland in a village called Dreng’s Ferry, where they have been given a run-down farm by the local ealdorman. Edgar is a natural builder and problem-solver and he quickly makes a living for himself, repairing the farm, building a new ferry, and working to improve the village.
Meanwhile Ragna, a Norman Lady from Cherbourg, comes to England to marry the ealdorman Wilwilf, madly in love after meeting him at her parents’ castle and ready to begin married life in England. It doesn’t start well, with a terrible sea journey and then being robbed, and married life is soon revealed to be not what she was promised, as her husband refuses to be faithful. She is as quick-witted as Edgar, and is a born leader, and is soon conspiring against Wilwilf’s corrupt and dangerous brothers, Wigelm and Bishop Wynstan.
As friendship grows between Ragna and Edgar, so does Edgar’s friendship with the monk Aldred, who is determined to stamp out corruption within the church and who makes an enemy of Wynstan, who goes all-out to destroy Aldred, and nearly succeeds. But Aldred never gives up and makes the most of being put in charge of the small, insignificant and poor monastery at Dreng’s Ferry.
Together Edgar, Ragna and Aldred make their way through a decade of wars, grief, children and marriages and we watch as their lives are increasingly intertwined and as Dreng’s Ferry becomes King’s Bridge, the star of The Pillars of the Earth. This is a fabulous novel, and I was reluctant to leave the end of the Dark Ages and return to modern pandemic Britain.