Book Review: The Pillars of the Earth – Ken Follett [TSS]

Title: The Pillars of the Earth
Author: Ken Follett
ISBN: 9780451225245
Pages: 973
Release Date: November 14, 2007
Publisher: NAL Trade
Genre: Historical Fiction
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Summary:

It’s the 12th century in England, and Tom Builder is desperately looking for work.  His dream has always been to build a cathedral, but no one seems to be hiring for even the most basic of building projects, and he doesn’t know how he will feed his family.

Meanwhile, Prior Philip, a monk, is finding himself swept up in England’s politics as he fights for the decaying Kingsbridge priory.  He wants to build a cathedral at Kingsbridge, but the political situation, coupled with scheming lords and bishops, threatens to stand in his way to stop both he and Tom from achieving their dreams.

Review:

The Pillars of the Earth is a modern classic, so people were surprised when I admitted that I hadn’t yet read it.  There were multiple reasons – too high expectations, the length – but with the new miniseries and the fact that I have been much more eager to read long books as of late, I decided to pick it up.  I was at once impressed by the historical details and intricacy of the plot as I slowly fell in love with the characters over the course of the book.

One of the main strengths of The Pillars of the Earth is its characters.  Though they can be sorted very roughly into the categories “characters you root for” and “characters you want to stab”, these are three dimensional and realistic people that come alive on every page.  The characters you love have flaws that are difficult to overcome, such as Tom’s blindness about his son, Alfred.  Likewise, the most despicable characters still have the occasional redeeming qualities; Follett does not stoop to caricatures in his novel.

Follett isn’t afraid to write strong, capable women, despite the limitations of the time period.  Aliena, Ellen, and Regan are all smart and shrewd, and they control the novel’s plot in many ways.  Aliena was probably my favorite character of the entire book – I loved how she cared for her brother, though he didn’t necessarily deserve it, and how she continually saved herself and those around her from poverty and starvation.  She also refused to let herself become a victim, regardless of circumstances.

The main storyline of the novel is the building of a cathedral in Kingsbridge, and the difficulties that come with it.  From political maneuvering and war to fires and the collapse of buildings, Tom and Philip must face much adversity.  Having two very powerful enemies doesn’t make the situation any easier for them.  The book is filled with the details of building a cathedral, from architecture to quarrying stone, which makes the novel completely fascinating.  If you aren’t a fan of details such as this, the book might seem interminable, but in this case, I absolutely loved it.

I also appreciated how seamlessly Follett wove in the history of the time period into his story.  Philip is required to scheme and plot in order to build his cathedral, and I loved how smart he was in outwitting his opponents.  At the same time, though, he is not always victorious.  I was afraid I’d get tired of the constant twists and turns, overcoming one obstacle just to be faced with another, even more insurmountable, but Follett did an exceptional job keeping the book fresh and interesting.

To sum up, Pillars of the Earth really was an exceptional historical novel.  I was continually impressed by the depth of the characters, and Follett managed to keep me interested for the entire novel, which is really saying something considering the length.  I’m really looking forward to reading the sequel, World Without End, and I’ll be watching the miniseries soon.

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Comments

  1. I both read and listened to this one and listened to the follow-up. I loved the details of the actual building of the cathedral and the politics concerning all aspects of that task.

  2. I both read and listened to this one and listened to the follow-up. I loved the details of the actual building of the cathedral and the politics concerning all aspects of that task.

  3. I read this book almost 20 years ago, while I was working temporarily in England, which made it a mind-blowing experience for me. Seeing these cathedrals in every other town over there, while reading about their construction, was totally three-dimensional. I always wondered how the book would stand up for me today, so I’m glad you thought it was so good. I enjoyed World Without End as well, but it wasn’t quite the same.

  4. I read this book almost 20 years ago, while I was working temporarily in England, which made it a mind-blowing experience for me. Seeing these cathedrals in every other town over there, while reading about their construction, was totally three-dimensional. I always wondered how the book would stand up for me today, so I’m glad you thought it was so good. I enjoyed World Without End as well, but it wasn’t quite the same.

  5. I read and loved this book a few years ago, and have slowly been meandering my way through the miniseries over the past few weeks. A friend of mine just passed me A World Without End as well, and it’s just a matter of making time for it! I am so glad that you loved this one! It was really an excellent book, and your review did it justice!

  6. I read and loved this book a few years ago, and have slowly been meandering my way through the miniseries over the past few weeks. A friend of mine just passed me A World Without End as well, and it’s just a matter of making time for it! I am so glad that you loved this one! It was really an excellent book, and your review did it justice!

  7. I have no idea why, but I’ve always shied away from this book. Now, after reading your terrific review, I’ll add it to my list!

    Happy Sunday, Swapna!

  8. I have no idea why, but I’ve always shied away from this book. Now, after reading your terrific review, I’ll add it to my list!

    Happy Sunday, Swapna!

  9. I tried to avoid this book for ages for many of the same reasons you did but a persistent friend finally wore me down and I ended up loving it. Yet I’ve not yet read the follow-up. Need to rectify that!

  10. I tried to avoid this book for ages for many of the same reasons you did but a persistent friend finally wore me down and I ended up loving it. Yet I’ve not yet read the follow-up. Need to rectify that!

  11. One of these days I am seriously going to read this…

  12. One of these days I am seriously going to read this…

  13. The length of this one scares me too so I am glad to see it is totally worth it!

  14. The length of this one scares me too so I am glad to see it is totally worth it!

  15. I read this one last August and loved it too. The characters, especially Aliena and Ellen, are wonderful. I haven’t read the sequel yet, but I’m planning to. I did watch the miniseries, and although the book is obviously better, I still really enjoyed it.

  16. I read this one last August and loved it too. The characters, especially Aliena and Ellen, are wonderful. I haven’t read the sequel yet, but I’m planning to. I did watch the miniseries, and although the book is obviously better, I still really enjoyed it.

  17. I bought this book a long time back hoping to read it sometime, but the size is daunting. I’m glad that you loved it – I hope to pick it up sometime.

  18. I bought this book a long time back hoping to read it sometime, but the size is daunting. I’m glad that you loved it – I hope to pick it up sometime.

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