The characters are so richly drawn, and the historical setting of Dordrect, a part of Holland (also known as Dutchlandia) which ends up an island following the Saint Elisabeth floods, is wonderfully portrayed. It's the introduction of the awesome Jolanda that really moves the story, introduces a sense of disquiet to pretty much everything that happens after we first encounter her. She is exactly what the plansmen of the novel, Sanders and Jan, are looking for as she is able to retrieve the real focus of the story. There's a set of dynamics at play between the three mains that is so complex that it did take some serious attention. I thought that the way the characters played off each other, and used the entire situation of the story and the setting, to be very dark and twisting.
Not Twisted, but twisting.
Every step of the way, Bullington is making you love and hate every character. At times, I was thinking "Poor Jo." and at other "Fucking Jo!" and the same about Jan, and ESPECIALLY about Sander. It's hard not to like a character who walks to his execution excitedly in the first few pages, and while I thought Sander was a lot of fun, he was dark dark dark at time, and a heavy bit of action at others.
While the characters are great, I did find myself a bit ragged reading in the middle. The prose worked, hard and dark and disquieting, but the plot seemed to take too many steps of the music that was playing. A lot of time is spent on character development, which is good, but at the same time there are stretches where I'd have liked some movement. The opening is one of the most engrossing I've ever come across, and the finish is a bit harsh in its brimstone, as it were. At 400+ pages, it's something of a tent-pole novel: highest on the front and back, a bit slack in the middle.
I would say that The Folly of the World is a fine novel for readers who have a fondness for depth and for the kind of prose that goes straight at your throat. Bullington isn't a light read, no doubt, but the prose is so good, the characters so very layered, and the setting so looming, that you'll be dragged under faster than you can imagine.