The Pillars of the Earth, by Ken Follett

Finished 8-3-08, rating 4/5, fiction, pub. 1989

This book takes place in 12th century England after King James has died and his crown is seemingly up for grabs.  While that is the backdrop the real story takes place at Kingsbridge, where the good Prior Philip has been appointed amidst some ugly politics.  Tom Builder has is a master builder who has a family to feed, but no job.  Tom ends up at Kingsbridge after losing his wife and child, but gaining a mistress and stepson.  Aliena, the privileged daughter of an earl, is brutally raped after her father wastes away in prison and she must rise above her circumstances to protect herself and her brother.  William is the heartless beast who becomes earl through devious plotting and help from a clever and power hungry bishop.

The quest of the story is the building of a great cathedral at Kingbridge.  All of these players and a few others, Jack and Alfred, are directly involved in getting the cathedral built (or not built).  The hardships and triumphs of these people pack an emotional punch.  The history of the time period is spectacular and the building of the cathedral from its first stone was fascinating.  There is a love story that spans most of the book, but the love for the cathedral overshadows it.

England is in a civil war, there is famine, and poilitical and religious intrigue abound.  I think everyone will learn from this book in an easily accessible way.  I would never pick up a book about building cathedrals or 12th century England, but this book with its many characters and stories made it interesting. 

I did enjoy it, but have some reservations about recommending it.  This is a book about good vs. evil, the good guys vs. the bad guys, but it is always very clear which side a character is on.  A good guy may do something questionable, but it is always explained in a very sympathetic way so that the halo around them is still intact.  While this always gives you someone to root for (and against) it seems too simple for such an epic novel.  When something good happened, you knew it would be countered with something awful and that did become predictable.  There are also some vulgar and graphic scenes that will repulse you.  I can get past them, but I know some can’t.

I enjoyed this book.  I know there is a sequel that takes place at Kingsbridge 200 years later, but I must admit I have no desire to read it.  The good outweighed the bad, but I was more happy to be done than with the so-so ending.  If you like grand sweeping epics or historically accurate fiction this is the book for you.

8 thoughts on “The Pillars of the Earth, by Ken Follett

  1. bermudaonion says:

    I’m impressed that you read a Follett book. I’ve never tackled any of his work, because it always seemed like too much of a commitment.

  2. womensfiction says:

    I rather enjoyed that book, but not so much because of the characters; I was enchanted by the building of the cathedrals. Which is kind of weird, because I would never be interested in a nonfiction book about any kind of architecture.

  3. stacybuckeye says:

    Miss Bermudaonion, I never would have picked up this book on my own. A friend gave it to me suggesting that I would like it. He was right, but I think he was just testing my fortitude!

    Womensfiction, I totally agree that the architecture and landscape was made interesting by the storytelling. I didn’t know it was an Oprah pick until I had almost finished it. Seems like a strange choice, but if anyone can get the multitudes to read a 900+ page book about building a cathedral it’s Oprah!

  4. Eric says:

    Stacy, I am glad you enjoyed the book and proud that it took you a month and a half to finish it! At least it entertained you for a while… It took me 3 months to read it…

  5. stacybuckeye says:

    Thanks for loaning it me, Eric. I did really enjoy it. I was hoping to finish it quicker, so it’s good to know I wasn’t the slowest one!

  6. donstuff says:

    Hi Stacy,

    I am planning to start The Pillars of the Earth next week. I recently read World Without End and really enjoyed it, so I figured… why not read Pillars? I’ll let you know how it goes.
    Don

  7. stacybuckeye says:

    Don,
    I think you’ll like it. My husband said my review had so many complaints that he thought I didn’t really like it, but that’s not true. I thought it was a worthwhile read. Maybe it’s the writer in me – always trying to make the story better.

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