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Edward Rutherfurd, the master of the historical novel, is set to enchant Ottawa with his latest epic saga

By Alejandro Bustos on May 10, 2013


In today’s so-called Twitter age, when attention spans are supposedly non-existent and books are seen as quaint anachronisms, it is cool to claim that epic novels are dead.

For in a world where 140-characters are all the rage, who has time to read hundreds of pages, let alone invest the mental effort to process a story full of complexity, nuance and wonder?

Fortunately for book lovers (and there are still many), English-born writer Edward Rutherfurd puts the lie to the view that epic literary sagas are passé.

“People are reading more than ever,” says Rutherfurd, when asked to comment on the popular claim that the novel is a dying art form.

Local bibliophiles can see his brilliance in person this coming Monday, May 13, when he speaks at Saint Paul University Amphitheatre at 223 Main Street.

For me, Rutherfurd is a fantastic writer who is the antithesis of the overhyped Tweet.  Known for writing long, epic novels like Sarum, a sweeping look at English history, or works like London and New York that tell the brilliant stories of those incredible cities, he has now released a new work of fiction called Paris, a riveting saga about the City of Lights that runs more than 800 pages and looks at Parisian history over a span of more than 700 years, from the 13th to 20th centuries.

The book moves back and forth across time by focussing on the lives of several families, whose political passions, love affairs, secrets and human dreams / frailties criss-cross with each other and the city’s history.  The captivating saga covers such moments as the building of the Eiffel Tower, the construction of Notre Dame Cathedral, the horror of the First World War, the upheaval of the Paris Commune, and the joy of the Belle Époque.

“I fell in love with Paris at a young age,” says Rutherfurd, who has regularly visited France throughout his life.  “I have also fallen in love in Paris.”

His wonderful new book on Paris is a fantastic journey through time, which quenches the human desire (which has existed for thousands of years) for being entertained with dramatic stories. In fact, and notwithstanding our culture’s obsession with Twitter, popular culture is still filled with epic tales full of complexity.

“Look at Game of Thrones,” says Rutherfurd about the popular book and TV series.  “This is old saga stuff.”

This interest in epic stories also exists with the millennial generation, who supposedly have the attention span of a two-year-old toddler.

“I have two children in their 20s,” says Rutherfurd.  “It’s not that they have no attention span, but that they want instant gratification …. But even they, when you grab their attention (with a story), they get riveted.”

Looking forward, Ruterfurd reveals that he is working on a TV series that he would like to release in the future.  As well, he says that he has the professional goal of writing a novel that is his best yet.  In the meantime, you can see him this coming Monday as he talks about his wonderful new book.

Edward Rutherfurd will be speaking on Monday, May 13, at  Saint Paul University Amphitheatre at 223 Main Street.  General tickets are $15, reduced tickets $10, and the event is free for members of the Ottawa Writers Festival.  Ottawa-based author Charlotte Gray will be the moderator of the event, which is scheduled to start at 7 pm.