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 from Follett is here: intrigue, fast-paced action, and passionate romance. But what makes The Pillars of the Earth extraordinary is the time—the twelfth century; the place—feudal England; and the subject—the building of a glorious cathedral. Follett has re-created the crude, flamboyant England of the Middle Ages in every detail. The vast forests, the walled towns, the castles, and the monasteries become a familiar landscape. Against this richly imagined and intricately interwoven backdrop, filled with the ravages of war and the rhythms of daily life, the master storyteller draws the reader irresistibly into the intertwined lives of his characters—into their dreams, their labors, and their loves: Tom, the master builder; Aliena, the ravishingly beautiful noblewoman; Philip, the prior of Kingsbridge; Jack, the artist in stone; and Ellen, the woman of the forest who casts a terrifying curse. From humble stonemason to imperious monarch, each character is brought vividly to life.
The building of the cathedral, with the almost eerie artistry of the unschooled stonemasons, is the center of the drama. Around the site of the construction, Follett weaves a story of betrayal, revenge, and love, which begins with the public hanging of an innocent man and ends with the humiliation of a king.
At once a sensuous and endearing love story and an epic that shines with the fierce spirit of a passionate age, The Pillars of the Earth is without a doubt Ken Follett's masterpiece. (from GoodReads)
So, that summary really lays it on thick, right? It makes it sound as though The Pillars of the Earth is the greatest novel ever written, and unfortunately, it is nowhere near that.
I decided to read The Pillars of the Earth after a friend had gushed about it on several occasions. She even let me borrow her copy, so I knew I was in for the long haul even if I didn't like the novel. But for her sake I stuck it out. At least now I get to vent about what I didn't like.
For one, The Pillars of the Earth was entirely too long. It was almost a thousand pages, which wouldn't be a bad thing if the same things didn't keep happening throughout the plot. The book is about the building of a cathedral and the storyline followed this basic premise: start building, something happens to hinder the building, issue is resolved, rinse and repeat. The author could have cut out about five of the "setbacks" and still had a long novel.
Another problem I had with The Pillars of the Earth were the characters, who were all boring. For a novel that is almost 1000 pages you would think there would be some decent character development. While some characters mature slightly, other characters remain shallow and caricature-like. Characters I didn't mind reading about were Philip, Aliena, Jack and Ellen, the "good guys." The villians were the worst offenders: they were completely evil and the only purpose they served was the stop the building of the cathedral. One "bad guy" William was the prepretrator of several graphic rape scenes, but still feared the fiery depths of Hell (makes a lot of sense, no?).
I usually love historical fiction and was originally excited to read The Pillars of the Earth because I don't know much about the Middle Ages. However, the story just didn't seem authentic. I didn't feel remotely like I was living in the twelfth century. The dialogue was pretty modern, with a couple of "thys" and "thous" thrown in for good measure. The attitudes and relationships between the characters also seemed pretty modern, so I was not impressed at all.
Unfortunately, I did not enjoy The Pillars of the Earth, but luckily I know I will not be picking up the sequel, another 1000 page tome (Yikes!).
Rating: 5 out of 10.
FTC: borrowed from a friend
1989/NAL Trade/976 pages.