The Pillars of the Earth

The Pillars of the Earth

For the Movie tie-in edition with the same ISBNgo to this Alternate Cover Edition Ken Follett is known worldwide as the master of split-second suspense, but his most beloved and bestselling book tells the magnificent tale of a twelfth-century monk driven to do the seemingly impossible: build the greatest Gothic cathedral the world has ever known. Everything readers expect...

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Title:The Pillars of the Earth
Author:Ken Follett
Rating:
ISBN:0451207149
Edition Language:English
Format Type:Paperback
Number of Pages:973 pages

The Pillars of the Earth Reviews

  • amelia
    Nov 18, 2007

    This is seriously one of the worst books I've ever read. The only reason I finished the book is because I cannot put a book down once I start.

    The writing is terrible. The plotting may be dramatic, but I had almost zero interest in any of the characters; they seem to exist merely for events to happen to them, like actors in a disaster movie. Beyond that there seemed to be three characters in the book: Bad guy, good guy, and good victimized-yet-able-to -overcome girl.

    What got me most was: Ken Foll

    This is seriously one of the worst books I've ever read. The only reason I finished the book is because I cannot put a book down once I start.

    The writing is terrible. The plotting may be dramatic, but I had almost zero interest in any of the characters; they seem to exist merely for events to happen to them, like actors in a disaster movie. Beyond that there seemed to be three characters in the book: Bad guy, good guy, and good victimized-yet-able-to -overcome girl.

    What got me most was: Ken Follett seemed so proud of his historical research that he mentions every 40 pages, "_____ took out his/her eating knife" Really, they didn't have forks, how is constantly reminding the audience of this fact important to the story? There were other oft repeated throughout the novel as well. This seemed like an attempt to fool the audience into thinking they're immersed in the middle ages, when the rest of the book could have taken place anywhere in time. One fact does not a novel make (unless it's a really clever fact.) The bad characters keeping the amazing building from completion felt like a fountainhead rip-off, but that might just be me.

    On the positive (?) side the book is an extremely easy read, I might have enjoyed it more were I laying in the sun half drunk on something sweet and rum-filled. Violent sex too if that sort of thing titillates you.

    Thank you "Wait Wait" for warning me of Oprah's evil plan, if I can save one person from reading this book my work will done.

  • Francine
    Dec 27, 2007

    I did not hate this book (hate would be too strong a word, and I can't hate it because I applaud the fact that Ken Follett

    to write an epic novel). But I did not like it. I didn't like it from the start; his writing style hit me like a brick, but Jim thoroughly enjoyed the book that I kept trying to convince myself that I ought to give it a chance, hoping it would get better. When I was about 500 pages in, he saw how miserable I was and asked why I didn't just stop reading it, but at t

    I did not hate this book (hate would be too strong a word, and I can't hate it because I applaud the fact that Ken Follett

    to write an epic novel). But I did not like it. I didn't like it from the start; his writing style hit me like a brick, but Jim thoroughly enjoyed the book that I kept trying to convince myself that I ought to give it a chance, hoping it would get better. When I was about 500 pages in, he saw how miserable I was and asked why I didn't just stop reading it, but at that point, I was invested in it; I had spent all that time getting that far, that I needed to finish it, and I couldn't wait to come to the end. I kept counting down: "Only 450 pages left; only 300 to go; last 200 pages...yay, I have 50 pages left!" Those fifty pages were the toughest to get through. By the time I was at the end, I thought it was a wasted effort - both on his part

    mine.

    It's so much easier to explicate on what I did not like because there were so many things:

    - I loathed the writing style (he vacillated between pages and pages of highly complex architectural discourses to third-grade level simple sentences grouped into short paragraphs). Sometimes it was bearable. Other times, I wanted to pull my hair out. There were times when I felt the only time he came alive as an author was when he was discussing architecture, but these parts were so didactic in nature that it couldn't hold my interest for long periods of time.

    - I did not like the author's narrative style. He

    to tie everything together (causality was so prevalent throughout the text that I wondered how he didn't work in how the killing of a fly affected events 60 years later). Every single storyline was wrapped up -

    neatly for my liking, in some cases. Everyone was tied to someone else (it was like playing Six Degrees); every single character had to have a denouement; every little plot twist had to be explained; closure had to be achieved, no matter how preposterous the circumstances, over time and space.

    - The characterization was poor. In fact, it was appalling how two-dimensional these characters were. Good people were good. Bad people were loathsome. As time went on, the good were always suffering one thing or another; they were put upon; they were harrassed; they were constantly challenged and put to the test like Job (something Follett actually used as a sermon!). The badfolk became more oppressive over time; they were not only detestable, but they had absolutely no redeeming qualities. And to go with a typical medieval stereotype, the good were always excessively beautiful, honorable, intelligent (geniuses or savants, even!) - and if they weren't rich, they would be at the end (I half expected Havelok the Dane and his refrigerator mouth to pop up somewhere, proving once and for all that in the medieval period, to be good was to have the purest light shining out of your mouth each time you opened it). Nevertheless, the bad became uglier, became more despotic, scheming throughout life to get the better of their enemies (the goodfolk). But in the end, good always triumphed over evil; those who could, repented and were forgiven. Those who couldn't, were killed off somehow, because apparently, death is the only way an evil person gets his (or her) dues. And then everyone had a happy ending. I hate happy endings when they're so obviously contrived. And this work was so elaborately, exhaustively, thoroughly contrived. (Maybe it's not too late for me to change my mind and say I

    it. *grin*)

    - Historically speaking, there was so much left to be desired. Granted, this novel was written two decades ago, and there have been new discoveries about the medieval period since Follett started his research. But he got it all wrong anyhow. His idea of medieval life was so...off, that it hurt my head to continue reading sometimes. I had to pause periodically and rant to Jim about what I currently found off-putting (for example, there weren't many literate people at the time; at the time this novel was set, there was still a distinct divide between England and Wales; reading and writing were two separate skill sets, and people who knew how to read did not necessarily know how to write and vice versa; orality was a prevalent part of storytelling back then and books not so much and yet somehow, he conflated much of both; manuscript writing was either orally dictated or copied tediously by the monks - his concept of a scriptorium was incomplete, defective - and there has been so much written about this that it saddened me; he used modern translations of medieval poetical/verse works and couldn't explain even alliterative verse form effectively - I even wonder if he

    what it was; his understanding of the languages of the period - Old English, Middle English, Latin, Norman French, Old French, Middle French, etc. - and what was spoken by the aristocrats vs. the peasants vs. the growing middle classes disgusts me; he showed a lack of understanding of medieval law, medieval rights, the social classes, gender roles, even the tales and legends of the period, in both England and France; priests were quite low on the totem pole, in terms of the religious hierarchy, and were quite disparaged yet somehow, that didn't quite come across in this novel...I could go on and on, but I won't).

    And the historical part of the novel I just found lacking. There are enough histories and chronicles, contemporaneously written, of the time, that he did not have to deviate much from history. There is so much written about the period between the death of Henry I through the civil wars between the Empress Matilda and King Stephen, to the time that Henry II ascended the throne (including the martyrdom of Thomas a Beckett), that I don't quite understand how he couldn't have mined the chronicles for better material. I understand that this is why it's called historical

    , and that there will always be some element of fiction interspersed with historical fact. But the fictional aspects usually have to do with surrounding characters and situations that bolster the history. The fiction is not necessarily to the history itself. Many times, when writing historical fiction, the author has to beware the pitfalls of creating a revisionist retelling, interspersing his or her own ideals or beliefs of what should have been to what

    . If this novel had been marketed as a revisionary narrative, it would have been okay. But it wasn't. I'm just glad that the historical aspect of the novel just served as the background and not the real story. Because then, I probably would've stopped reading.

    The premise was a good one and held a lot of promise. It could've been a great historical epic had it been handled by a more assured writer. By someone who was more of a visionary, someone who had the patience to do exhaustive research or who knew how to craft richly developed characters. It needed an author who understood the epic genre, who knew how to mold the epic, who knew how to keep the narrative going, seemlessly binding time with narration and the human condition, without resorting to stereotypes and grating drama. And most importantly, it needed someone who understood when the story had been told; that while there will always be other stories to tell, that each book has its own natural end, and that these stories may

    belong in this book.

    Ken Follett may be a bestselling author of suspense novels (and even historical fiction such as Pillars of the Earth and World without End), but he is no writer of epics. Compared to writers of historical fiction such as Edward Rutherford, James Michener, Bernard Cornwell or Margaret George, Ken Follett has a long way to go.

  • Troy
    Mar 17, 2008

    Ahem.

    "Pillars of the Earth" is a very long book. It's got a lot of soap-opera-like twists and turns - no amnesia, but just about everything else, including mistaken identities, illicit marriages, illicit lack of marriage, illegitimate children, questionable parentage, love triangles, revenge, greed, power, a few murders, rape, witches, politics, knights, swords and horsies. OK, that last bit is not so soap-opera-like. There's also lots and lots of architecture. And it's a very long book.

    Main sto

    Ahem.

    "Pillars of the Earth" is a very long book. It's got a lot of soap-opera-like twists and turns - no amnesia, but just about everything else, including mistaken identities, illicit marriages, illicit lack of marriage, illegitimate children, questionable parentage, love triangles, revenge, greed, power, a few murders, rape, witches, politics, knights, swords and horsies. OK, that last bit is not so soap-opera-like. There's also lots and lots of architecture. And it's a very long book.

    Main story follows a single family of stone masons for (roughly) three generations, and the extended families associated with re-marrying, etc. Around this family revolves an aspiring monk/prior, a powerful but morally questionable bishop, a ruthless Earl (title, not name), and several kings. The thing is, even with all the re-marrying and such, there are so many evolving inter-relationships between these main characters as the struggle for political power unfolds, and of course everybody grows up, has children, etc - that EVERYTHING seems to happen to this small group of people. And just when you think things have settled down for a while, something else happens, or attempts to happen. And these things keep happening for approximately 980 pages.

    Along the way, you learn a lot about medieval culture - particularly the role of religion, the political power of a monestary, priory, or diocese - how life is funded, and just how much it sucks to be a serf. There's also quite a bit of focus on the reason for, and the means to, building cathedrals - Follett muses in his Foreward that one of the things he never could understand is why people in such destitute times would have put so much energy into buildings of such scale, and this book addresses that. You also learn a lot about architecture and the evolution of cathedral-building. I can also now tell you the difference between a nave, chancel, transept, cloister, and clerestory. Oh, and probably 7 different words for "horse".

    Really though, I very much enjoyed it, despite its very lengthy nature. Very full of words. Long. Not a day went by I didn't read at least 50 pages (note - at that rate, it will still take about 3 weeks to finish).

    The building is a constant, its a reason to keep the central family of masons from wandering off and having more illicit marriages, and its a reason for the ongoing political power struggles. It's essential, but it's not distracting, and the cathedral is not the focus. The people are. They're engaging, you feel for them, you assign labels (good, evil) you change labels several times (he's pretty self-serving and conniving for a "good" guy), and you constantly wonder just what more can possibly happen to these people. There's also an underlying mystery that keeps you wondering... right up until 100 pages too soon.

    My only complaint is this - the big climax occurs, the mystery is revealed, it all comes together - and there are still 100 pages to go. The last part of the wrap-up, the rise and fall, takes a while, has an interesting but probably unnecessary historically accurate reference to English church vs. king to give the whole novel an air of "this could have really happened in some obscure English medieval village somewhere, I wonder which cathedral this is supposed to be? Can I go see the real thing?" But it loses momentum right at the very end. Loose ends nicely tied up, but it wasn't the gripping page turner it had been in the first 900 pages. By that time, though, you've got so few pages in your right hand you just keep going because the end is in sight.

  • Jax
    Jul 11, 2008

    A massive tome with a spine thicker than Arnold Schwartzenegger’s forearm,

    looks intimidating enough to make even the most avid readers wary; its 973 pages are densely packed with unforgiving walls of 8-point text with nary a line break in sight. Before I was more than a hundred pages in, however, it became apparent that length was among the least of this behemoth of a book’s problems.

    Follett's concept—a medieval, generation-spanning epic built around the construction of a cathedral—is

    A massive tome with a spine thicker than Arnold Schwartzenegger’s forearm,

    looks intimidating enough to make even the most avid readers wary; its 973 pages are densely packed with unforgiving walls of 8-point text with nary a line break in sight. Before I was more than a hundred pages in, however, it became apparent that length was among the least of this behemoth of a book’s problems.

    Follett's concept—a medieval, generation-spanning epic built around the construction of a cathedral—is exciting and full of potential (as are the illustrations, which are far too beautiful to serve as bookends to such trash); but the snaillike pacing, nonexistent characterization, and stilted, robotic prose ruin whatever potential the book might have had. Things start off on a sour note as we must bear witness to a painful prologue in which Follett tries to establish some sort of basis for an intersection that we are led to believe is soon to come – only to abandon this plotline for so long that we’ve forgotten what the point of the book is by the time it comes around again.

    Then we fast-forward a decade, ending up in a rolling green valley alongside a totally different cast of characters. Before even a single word of dialog has appeared, Follett has described in exhaustive detail the lives thus far of Tom Builder (guess what his profession is), his moderately pregnant wife, Agnes, and their children, Martha and Alfred. Here we run into one of the most irritating faults of the whole book—a descriptiveness that borders on—and then completely transcends—the excessive. One wonders what on earth Follett’s editor was off doing when he should have been cutting

    down by several hundred pages’ worth of unruly tresses and twinkling eyes.

    A thorough editor, armed with a hacksaw, could have perhaps fashioned this mammoth mishap into a passable pulp page-turner; but left as is, Pillars proves infantile, taxing—and oftentimes just plain disgusting. Fight and torture scenes are pointlessly gratuitous; descriptions of the architecture are historically accurate but impossibly long and boring; attempts to make the solidly one-dimensional characters charming only render them crass, impulsive—and, frankly, kind of gross.

    It’s all downhill from there—with the exception of plucky prior Phillip, who could have been the novel’s

    if not for Follett’s iron resolution to curdle what little cream rises to the top of this mess. Phillip is smart, tenacious, and intensely likable, and his involvement in Tom’s life (being the prior of Kingsbridge Priory, where the cathedral is being built) gives the impression that he’ll be a key player for a long while. We are sadly mistaken; Phillip barely has time to settle in to his newly-acquired prior’s quarters before he is cast aside like a ragdoll. Oh, sure, he’s still

    —but he does little more than pace hallways, issue stale anecdotes, and wring his hands over his inability to keep Kingsbridge safe after it is attacked again and again and again by the bad guys—who, in typical Follett style, would not have looked out of place twirling their moustaches and cackling maniacally. Waleran Bigod (I kid you not) and William Hamleigh fill their roles of ‘cold-hearted evil mastermind’ and ‘sadist thug’, respectively, with menacing glares, cold, unsmiling eyes, and appropriately villainous hubris all around. Follett abandons all pretenses with these two and instead goes for pure shock value, thereby rendering even his silliest characters uniformly unlovable.

    This is all well and good (well, truly, not)—but what really had me sputtering with disbelief was the author’s warped sense of justice. Does he honestly think that making William fat and gouty by the book’s end will bring closure? If anything, I found it a little extreme; Willy and Wally (as I took to calling them) were the only ones who even tried to relieve the suffering for the reader brought on by Tom’s (literally) witchy girlfriend (yes, girlfriend) Ellen, her funny-looking son Jack, and his improbable beau Aliena (I couldn’t make this stuff up if I tried); the men deserve pats on the back!

    For that matter, so does anyone who managed to overcome the temptation to throw this bloated Colossus out the nearest window halfway through. Congratulations. Now how about that sequel?

  • Misfit
    Aug 20, 2008

    I know I'm going to be in the minority here, but this is truly one of the worst books I have ever read. I came so close to throwing the book across the room on several occasions, and ended up skipping through many pages just to get to the final and not too surprising finish.

    The characters were flat and lifeless and seemed to have been transplanted from the 20th century into medieval England. The book was rife with unnecessary profanity that in no way enhanced the storyline and obscene gratuitou

    I know I'm going to be in the minority here, but this is truly one of the worst books I have ever read. I came so close to throwing the book across the room on several occasions, and ended up skipping through many pages just to get to the final and not too surprising finish.

    The characters were flat and lifeless and seemed to have been transplanted from the 20th century into medieval England. The book was rife with unnecessary profanity that in no way enhanced the storyline and obscene gratuitous sex (I mean how many times did William have to rape someone to prove that he was a really really bad guy?). I noticed that at least one other reviewer commented that this book was required reading in his child's school, which if you are a parent I would recommend you take a good look at this book and perhaps take issue with your school district. As an adult I was shocked at the language and violence in this book, and find it totally inappropriate for a child and/or young adult.

    I also noticed comments about the historical accuracy and research that must have been involved in writing this book. If that is so, it must only be in regards to the building of the cathedral and the civil war between Stephen and Maud. As for the rest, I must disagree, I have read many well written and researched books of medieval times (thank you Sharon Kay Penman and Elizabeth Chadwick for such awesome reads), and I was infuriated on numerous discrepancies in this book. Examples and anyone may correct me if I'm mistaken as I am not a history major:

    * Aliena is frequently described as having long, curling loose flowing hair. Women in those days wore their hair braided and covered, it being quite scandalous for any man other than her husband or lover to see it loose.

    * After the attack on the castle, and the imprisonment of their father Aliena and Richard are allowed to live alone in the castle with only the steward? I doubt that the king would punish the children so for the sins of their fathers, and most likely would have been made wards of the king until they reached their majority. This was most desirable as the king could then skim the proceeds off the estates and funnel them to the crown's use. Sometimes a king would give ward ship to another party as a reward for service, etc.

    * Young boys of the noble class were typically sent to another noble household to be raised and educated, first as squires and then trained in that household as a knight. What on earth was a teenaged Richard doing living at home?

    * Much was made of William's warhorse. These were formidable beasts that were not easily handled by strangers. Yet Aliena and Richard were able to not only saddle the warhorse, but to get right on and ride it? I don't think so.

    * The English nobility of that period were Norman French and did not speak the language of the peasant class. So how did Aliena manage to not only communicate with them, but could set up a successful business in that atmosphere?

    I could go on with more examples if I had remembered to take notes, but there were many similar instances to this throughout the book. All I can say is that if you want to read a very well written and researched book on this period, please see Sharon Kay Penman's When Christ and His Saints Slept and Time and Chance (Ballantine Reader's Circle). JMO.

  • DeLaina
    Aug 28, 2008

    I devour books. That is my euphemism for being so OCD that I can't put it down and live my life until I finish it. For shorter books, that's generally not a problem, but for the 974 page Pillars of the Earth...well, let's just say we ran out of food, my children clung to my legs asking for food, and the floors did not get vacuumed for a good five days while I whittled away at this book.

    CLIFF HANGER: This book is not a cliff-hanger at the end of every chapter kind of book, which makes it easier t

    I devour books. That is my euphemism for being so OCD that I can't put it down and live my life until I finish it. For shorter books, that's generally not a problem, but for the 974 page Pillars of the Earth...well, let's just say we ran out of food, my children clung to my legs asking for food, and the floors did not get vacuumed for a good five days while I whittled away at this book.

    CLIFF HANGER: This book is not a cliff-hanger at the end of every chapter kind of book, which makes it easier to read it in multiple sittings. However, Follett does such a masterful job of character development, that I found myself wanting to know what was going to happen next whether the end of the chapter contained a cliffhanger ending or not.

    CHARACTER DEV'T: Each character is so beautifully defined and fleshed out, that they become almost real. I felt that I knew them personally, that I could accurately predict how they would react in different situations. None of them were 100% good or bad, just like in real life. Some priests were holy, others evil; some were rich people with big hearts, others with small minds and evil intentions; some poor farmers were judgmental, w/narrow-minded attitudes, others opened their doors to strangers.

    PLOT/PACE: Foreshadowing was a very powerful convention that Follett skillfully weaved in and out of every chapter. It gave subtle hints, but never so overt as to suggest that the reader may be an imbecile. Backstories meander and come to closure at such a nice pace, that it always feels like something is happening and things are being resolved, for better or for worse.

    THEMES: My favorite theme was that natural consequences followed the actions of the characters. (I'm still a bit out of sorts after reading the deus ex machina riddled

    , where all the natural consequences of three books worth of actions were completely erased-ugh.) There was a natural ebb and flow of triumph and misfortunes in Pillars of the Earth. Good things happened to bad people and bad things happened to good people, just like in real life. Follett does not try to save his characters from themselves, or from each other, and I enjoyed that very much.

    STRONG WOMEN: I absolutely adored the strong women in this book! What a joy to read about Aliena, carving out her own future after her world had been turned upside down! Life knocked her down plenty, but each time, she got up, made a plan, and triumphed eventually. Ellen, and Agnes in her own way, were also strong women.

    OVERALL IMPRESSION: As strange as it sounds, with all of the despair and misery that took place, the overarching take home for me, was HOPE. In the face of overwhelming adversity, these characters triumphed. The road was hard and the journey was long, but they CHOSE hope. They CHOSE faith. And in the end, that was all that mattered.

    Pillars of the Earth will be on my favorite books list for a very long time.

  • Amanda
    Aug 30, 2009

    This book was popular? As in a mini-phenomenon? Seriously? Am I being punked? Tell the truth--no one else read the book. It was all an elaborate media/pop culture scheme to trick me into reading this book. Please lie to me about this. I'm not sure I can go on living if I have to believe that this is what my fellow man is reading these days.

    My utter disdain for the book comes from many a source:

    A) It's 900 pages. Mind you, I'll read 900 pages, even 1,500 pages, if it's amazing. But it has to be a

    This book was popular? As in a mini-phenomenon? Seriously? Am I being punked? Tell the truth--no one else read the book. It was all an elaborate media/pop culture scheme to trick me into reading this book. Please lie to me about this. I'm not sure I can go on living if I have to believe that this is what my fellow man is reading these days.

    My utter disdain for the book comes from many a source:

    A) It's 900 pages. Mind you, I'll read 900 pages, even 1,500 pages, if it's amazing. But it has to be a crackerjack of a book. This was not.

    B) Here's where this book and I really parted ways: Tom Builder's beloved wife, Agnes, dies in childbirth on the side of the road. Only hours later, Tom's rolling in the leaves with an attractive forest wench in a sex scene so ridiculous I could practically hear the "bow-chicka-wow-wow" music in the background. Poor Agnes' body isn't even cold yet and Tom's getting it on with a woman he had a 15 minute conversation with earlier in the book.

    C) It's hard to believe this is medieval England, what with all the modern sensibilities and modern vernacular.

    C) It could have been whittled down by about 500 pages if the scenes of people eating had been omitted.

    E) The women, oh, the women. Witches or whores or victims of tag team rape.

    Here's the basic rundown of the plot:

    --Building a church, building a church, building a church . . .

    --Oh, crap, a plot complication! We might not be able to build the church.

    --Crafty Phillip overcomes the complication.

    --Insert licentious sex scene.

    --Building a church, building a church, building a church . . .

    --Oh, crap, a plot complication! We might not be able to build the church.

    --Crafty Phillip overcomes the complication.

    --Now insert gratuitous sex scene.

    Lather. Rinse. Repeat. For 900 pages.

    Cross posted at

  • StoryTellerShannon
    Nov 17, 2011

    A tapestry of medieval cathedrals centered around an epic drama and some would term it melodrama but that's open to debate.

    Ken Follet actually wanted to write this book years before it was published. But his agent told him to build up his base of fans by writing several more thrillers. His EYE OF THE NEEDLE pushed him up to the best seller list.

    At a later point, after writing those novels and studying medieval cathedral architecture, Follet got to write his 900 page novel centering around the

    A tapestry of medieval cathedrals centered around an epic drama and some would term it melodrama but that's open to debate.

    Ken Follet actually wanted to write this book years before it was published. But his agent told him to build up his base of fans by writing several more thrillers. His EYE OF THE NEEDLE pushed him up to the best seller list.

    At a later point, after writing those novels and studying medieval cathedral architecture, Follet got to write his 900 page novel centering around the British dispute of the crown between Queen Maude and King Stephen; these were the contestants who preceded Henry II, who is best known for his colorful History with Eleanor of Aquitaine, Richard the Lion Hearted and the gray King John.

    Story centers around several commoner types, with a few exceptions, whose lives intertwine in the eventual struggle to build a glorious cathedral. Without revealing too much and generalizing this story has: lurid scenes of lust, violence, intrigue, political disputes, wars, loves gained, loves lost, main characters dying, a child abandoned at birth and much more. And, to enthusiasts of History, it even teaches readers of the period.

    Highly advised reading, even if the dialogue is a bit informal and the structure sometimes isn't as focused as it could be. If those two points don't bother you, this is a great book.

    And, for those too lazy to read the novel, there's now a miniseries.

  • Dan Schwent
    Dec 31, 2012

    Confession time: This is not a book I would have picked out for myself. First of all, look at the size of this kitten squisher! Second of all,

    of it is one of my favorite reviews on Goodreads. However, it's one of my girlfriend's favorite books and when she suggested I give it a read, I knew what was good for me. Lucky for me, I enjoyed it.

    Pillars of the Earth is a multigenerational tale about the construction of a cathedral in a fictitious English town in the 1100s.

    Confession time: This is not a book I would have picked out for myself. First of all, look at the size of this kitten squisher! Second of all,

    of it is one of my favorite reviews on Goodreads. However, it's one of my girlfriend's favorite books and when she suggested I give it a read, I knew what was good for me. Lucky for me, I enjoyed it.

    Pillars of the Earth is a multigenerational tale about the construction of a cathedral in a fictitious English town in the 1100s. Many threads are followed for it's nigh-1000 page girth. Tom Builder goes from being an expectant father to a widow to a master builder. Philip becomes a prior and the ruler of Kingsbridge. And lets not forget Jack, Aliena, Richard, Waleran, that bastard William Hamleigh, or any of the many other characters.

    Ken Follett was primarily known as a thriller writer before Pillars and it shows. Every time things appear to be going right for the good guys and it looks like the cathedral is back on track, another monkey wrench is thrown into the works. For a book with very little in the way of action, I was enthralled. You can squeeze a lot of plot complications in nearly 1000 pages and Follett jammed in as many as he could. I have to admire the kind of planning it took to write something like this.

    As I said before, I always found the size of this thing daunting but I probably shouldn't have. It's a best seller, and best sellers aren't known for being difficult reads. Since Follett is a thriller writer, he tended to keep things to the point for the most part, though I thought he was ignoring Elmore Leonard's rule about not writing the parts people skip a few times.

    I don't really want to say much about the plot for fear of spoiling anything. It's a long read but the ending is worth the time it takes to get there.

    Parting thoughts (may contain spoilers):

    - Tom Builder sure jumped into bed with Ellen pretty quickly. Agnes' body wasn't even cold yet.

    - Lots of rape in the 1100's

    - Since Kingsbridge is fictitious, does that make Pillars of the Earth historical fantasy?

    - I really hate William Hamleigh.

  • Bookworm Sean
    Jan 17, 2014

    This book was so completely fantastic that I almost forgot the outside world existed when I was reading it. I’ve never be so emotionally invested in a story, as I was with this. It’s a rare book that does this to me. I think it’s because it follows the characters through such a large proportion of their lives, resulting in a large amount of intimacy and investment with them. Indeed, this novel spans a massive period of forty years and has 1000+ pages; this is no light reading; it is deep, emotiv

    This book was so completely fantastic that I almost forgot the outside world existed when I was reading it. I’ve never be so emotionally invested in a story, as I was with this. It’s a rare book that does this to me. I think it’s because it follows the characters through such a large proportion of their lives, resulting in a large amount of intimacy and investment with them. Indeed, this novel spans a massive period of forty years and has 1000+ pages; this is no light reading; it is deep, emotive and completely brilliant.

    So much happens within this novel. It’s impossible to lay it down in a brief summary; these characters, quite literally, go through hell. Such is the life of commoners in the period. They are good folk, and are just trying to erect a church for the betterment of their town. However, the corruptness of the local nobility, and the church hierarchy itself, almost prevents them from achieving their aim. Prior Phillip and Jack the Builder are forced to seek out the aid from their monarch, but because of the turmoil of the civil war, this monarch keeps changing. They have a choice of two royal courts to appeal to. Both are convinced they have the legitimate claim to England’s throne. Picking the wrong side would lead to the ultimate ruination of a folk that simply want to live in peace, and celebrate God’s glory on earth.

    Well, this is the mere surface level of the plot. This book is so much beyond it. It is a story of betrayal and seduction; it is a story of love and hardship; it is a story of human nature and the all-encompassing morals that imposes. It is just fantastic in every sense. The characters are real, and their hardships are even realer. These are truly some of the most human characters I‘ve ever read about; these people could have existed.

    This is no less true for the villains of the book, William Hamleigh in particular is characterised superbly. For all his ruthless aggression, and sense of entitlement, he’s still a coward at heart. He’d never admit it to anyone, but the reader knows of what he is; the reader can see his blackening yellow heart. He is a product of society, and his parent’s ruthless ambition. He doesn’t deserve sympathy because of this, but the reason why he is the man he is can be seen by looking at his origins. His parents ruined him; he has no restraint; he has nobody to tell him no. So, to his mind, he can get away with anything. He even has a Bishop who will gladly absolve all his sins. He’s actions have no consequences; he can murder and rape without feeling the consequences. This is an incredibly dangerous mind-set, and one that almost destroys the protagonists of the book. He's a nasty man.

    Follet also weighs the potential power of the church. I love the way he contrasts godly Prior Phillip with the twisted Bishop Waleran. It shows us two routes the church could take; it shows us two possibilities for God’s monument on Earth. Prior Phillip is everything the church should be; he is kind and forgiving; he is benevolent and just: he is a true believer of Christ’s teachings. He is in the church for the simple reason that he is a man of faith. Contrastingly, Bishop Waleran is a tyrannical despot. He represents evryhting the church shouldn’t be; he is the personification of its potential evil. The Bishop is vain, greedy and ambitious. In this his will is his own; he is completely self-serving. He abuses his power to meet his own ends and self-aggrandisement. So, he is slightly corrupt. He’s only in the church for its political power and rewards. In this, he is not a true believer of his own faith.

    By contrasting these two characters Follet demonstrates how the church has the power to do great good and also great evil. This, for me, is quite a strong message to take from the book because it shows us the dividing nature of man, of life, of good and evil; it shows us that all things can be benevolent or terrible. It also hints at redemption. If something is this bad, it can be made into something good once more; it has the potential to be as it should be in the right hands. I do love this story. It shows that if people can come together, to achieve something greater than themselves then humanity is not lost despite the backdrop of war, corruptness and general chaos.

    Jack begins the novel as a mute boy with little human socialisation. At the end of the novel he is a respected builder and farther of the town. He is the anchor of Follet’s story telling. Everything centres on Jack, and his family history. His narrative questions the restraints the common man lived under in the period; it highlights the injustice the legal system exerted in the time. He cannot marry his love without a written divorce from his horrible step-brother who’d sooner see him live in misery than have the happiness he couldn’t achieve. The church doctrine almost prevents him from being a farther to his child. But, he perseveres and overcomes the restrictions of the church, his awful step-brother and the corruptness of society itself. Jack’s story is one of human perseverance and fortitude; it is a story of a man who somehow managed to survive a system that was completely against him.

    This is a phenomenal story, and though that I’ve got hundreds of books I want to read in my lifetime, and little enough time to read them in, this is a book I will definitely be reading again in the future; it’s a story that I simply have to revisit regardless of its vast length. This is a book I just have to read again.