A review of the book The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett.
The friend who recommended this excellent novel to me can not access Goodreads- hence I am writing this post here for her specifically, as well as for anyone else who might be interested. This will also be shared on Goodreads as well.
I have never read a book with nearly 1100 pages before but this book was so easy; the plot and its characters engaged me so much, I read over 200 pages in one night.
What was the power of this book? For me, it was the muscle of suspense and the sometimes almost unbearable tension, as well as the way the author weaved the characters in and out of scenes and years in such a seamless way. I wanted to cry for Aliena, crush William Hamleigh with my bare hands and respected the character of Philip, the Prior of Kingsbridge. You simply had to find out what was happening next to these people you had formed such at attachment with, and the skill of Follett to write about historical facts with fictious characters with such convincing realism was genius.
The beginning of a book is usually a litmus paper that either burns brightly or fizzles out, as far as knowing whether the story has fire and momentum. I was hooked from the opening scenes and it had all the flavour of the grim realities of C12th English Norman life. I thought that Ellen was going to be the main female in this book but I was mistaken. It was Aliena, who Follett cleverly made into a model business woman and survivor of rape and unjust male dominance that was the heroine.
Like Ellen, I thought Tom Builder was going to be the focal man in this plot but again Follett surprised me. No, he had two people up his sleeve. Prior Philip and the unlikely Jack soon both became centre stage and their characters were beacons of honesty, good and integrity. You both wanted them to win in life, to triumph over the evil before them and to succeed where Tom had left off with his sudden death.
The main fascination of wanting to read this book, at first, was the building of Kingsbridge cathedral. A lover of buildings and especially churches, that I love to photograph, Follett’s knowledge of the building of cathedrals was fabulous, even if I did get confused. However, it did helped me generally to understand more about the construction of large stone buildings of worship in this period.
Sometimes, I did think the author went into two much detail, especially at the start, to get to the main thrust of the story and certainly the first 300 pages could have been made more concise and the story accelerated. But I can see why he did this, in part, to set the scene in a detailed way and to bring everything together so well at the end.
The villans of the story: Bishop Waleran Bigod and the Earl William Hamleigh, both whom were enemies, seeking power and prestige in their own ways was an interesting observation. I liked the way that both did not meet a sudden and predictable end but that both lived but lingered and were slowly destroyed by their own evil, vice, violence, greed and human depravity – one in the name of God and one in the name of Ego. William’s end was especially fitting and just, and Aliena to witness it, appealed to my fierce belief of justice. Ken depicted this as awfully as possible. I think he hated his character as much as I did.
There was only one anomaly to the story that did not fit or feel authentic for me. This was the way Elizabeth ( Hamleigh’s wife) was extricated out of the story. I don’t think for one moment that she could have committed what she did and get away with it – to be able to return home to her Mother. For a wife to betray her husband in the way she did would certainly had more ramifications that the character of Hamleigh would allow. There was a strange silence. Follett had his story covered in every way, apart from this for me. However, this was such a minor detail that I still scored this book five stars and once completed I immediately bought the sequel ‘ World without End.’
I can see why this book is considered Ken’s masterpiece and it certainly is one of the finest books I have ever read. Anyone who enjoys an absorbing historical read will not be disappointed. For me, it was outstanding in both execution and content.
Thanks Annie for the recommendation!