In most books, when reading the first few pages, you have a broad idea of what the plot arc is going to be, ignoring details of subplot, and how exactly the eventual resolution comes about. With Ash there was about one significant plot element I guessed at correctly ahead of time. The way the story unfolds feels horribly like real life, in the way that any time you think you've got a handle on what happens next, the rug is pulled away from under your feet. In comparison other books seem like staged affairs, where the ending is a set of carefully arrange coincidences pushed into place in the plot. That said, the narrative structure is certainly there. Following the one thread in the tapastry, we come away with a vivid picture of what a sizable portion of the tapastry looks like.
The characterisation is a driving force behind this real-life feel, and indeed the dense writing as a whole gives the book and the people written about a sense of reality - of real men and women being described. A little too dense to be read through in one sitting, it must be admitted, which isn't helped by the 1000 odd pages. But the story is sufficiently compelling I ended up reading it in fewer sittings than perhaps it would have been wiser for me to read it in.
One thing I didn't like, it must be said, was the parallel modern world discussion. I can see why it was necessary, but I would have preferred to get the exposition in some other way. Or just that those bits be made shorter.
But, basically, a stunning book. Recommended.
And now, I must really get to bed...