Edward Rutherford's latest novel explores the families and history of England's New Forest. 

Into the Woods

English history is full of fascination for many Americans. Edward Rutherford has tapped into that fascination with his novels that use a multilayered approach to the story of England and especially the New Forest in the southern part of England. Giving the reader stories of fictional characters, he has written "Sarum," "London" and now "The Forest." (Crown Publishers, $26.95). The first two books have been great financial successes and "The Forest" looks to follow in kind. Rutherford will speak about his work during the Junior League of Richmond's Book & Author Dinner on Thursday, May 4.

This new novel begins with the England that followed the Norman invasion, and the characters in the first segment are present at or involved with the death (accidental? murder?) of King Rufus in 1099. The stories conclude in April 2000 with an account of a young woman who has been assigned to produce a TV documentary about the New Forest. Along the way — and a lengthy one it is — the reader is plunged into the life of a Cistercian abbey in 1294, and we get to see what conflicts and dangers the English faced at various historical turning points. These include events that we all learned about in history: the coming of the Armada, the execution of Charles I and the Glorious Revolution of 1688.

If it were necessary to guess which side of the nature/nurture debate Rutherford comes down on, this reader's guess would be "nature." This book begins with stories of men and women who live in The Forest — the Prides, the Furzeys, the Tottens, the Puckles, the Grockeltons and the Martells. In the Furzey family there is even a genetic infusion of high intelligence into one branch, an intelligence that continues to show up as the generations pass. The middle and final chapters include stories of these families and the characters clearly have inherited personal qualities that it is possible to recognize in their earliest manifestations.

For those who loved James Michener's stories and who like their history in an easy form, "The Forest" is a good read. Although it is about 496 pages, it is possible to pick it up and read the chapters that particularly interest you. Be warned, however, if you do this you will miss the sweep of English history that the writer has given us in a highly readable

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