Book Reviews: The Pillars of the Earth

Tuesday, August 31, 2010


The Pillars of the Earth
by Ken Follett
★★★★☆

This sprawling story, told over 1,000 pages, is set during the twelfth century. It spans more than 50 years, (1123-1174), three countries (England, Spain and France) and the building of a cathedral. It focuses on a monk, driven to revitalize a town and build a cathedral, and the family that provides the master builders capable of the job.

I loved learning about monastic life and what it takes to build a cathedral. I’ve seen dozens of them throughout Europe, but reading about the process of building one gave me a new appreciation for the work that goes into their creation. We watch a cathedral rise out of the sweat and blood of a single village and all of this unfolds while royals vie for the throne and control of the country.

The reason the big book was such an addictive read was the characters. This kind of epic tale is appealing to me when I want to lose myself in a story, but it only works if you care about the people that make up that story. I loved both Ellen and Aliena, two unconventional women whose strength inspired the men around them.

Follett created some delicious villains in his story. William Hamleigh is vicious and evil, but in the way of a selfish, petulant child. Bishop Waleran Bigod on the other hand is manipulative and always self-serving, but in an underhanded and subtle way. Both men are evil, but in completely different ways.

Even though it's long, it was a fast read. I've never read Follett before, but I would assume that writing his other thrillers gave him the perfect practice to create this compulsive read. The writing isn't perfect or lyrical, but it just right for a book. I would definitely recommend this to anyone who enjoys historical fiction or just a good absorbing read.

Have any of you read the sequel "World Without End?" Any good?

What about the new miniseries? I'm curious to see if it stayed close to the novel at all.

10 comments:

Coffee and a Book Chick said...

This was my first Follett read, and I absolutely loved it!! Did you know that they made a mini-series of it on the Showtime network? I haven't seen any of it because I loved the book so much that I'm worried the mini-series will be *awful*. There was just something about his writing that just sucked me right in and I was so in love with everything, the flow, the characters, the events -- I just loved it! I haven't read "World Without End" yet, but a friend of mine started to read it but had to put it down because she said it was a little too violent for her tastes, but I'm still going to check it out. Pillars of the Earth was definitely a tough read in certain spots, but the overall story was incredible.

Jenners said...

A friend FORCED me to read this book ages ago ... I resisted her for 2 years before giving in ... and then I got totally sucked in. I still haven't read the follow-up though.

Kathy said...

I read this one several years ago and really enjoyed it. Haven't read the sequel--it actually hasn't even made my list yet--but it's something I might pick up if I ever manage to get my list pared down to manageable proportions.

Bibliophile By the Sea said...

I listening to the audio of this one right now and enjoying it a lot. great review (skimmed it since I'm not done yet).

Avid Reader said...

Coffee - I'm a bit worried about the mini series too.

Jenners - Isn't it great when someone "makes" you read a book you end up loving. It often goes the other way, but sometimes it's perfect.

Bibliophile - I bet this would be an interesting one on audio. You'll have to let me know how it goes.

nomadreader said...

I've been meaning to read this one for years, but I confess it's size scares me a bit. It's such a large commitment to read a book that long! Thanks for reminding me to get it read!

Avid Reader said...

nomadreader - I've read some long, tiresome books, but this isn't one of them. It's definitely a page turner that goes quickly.

bibliophilica said...

I really enjoyed this book too. It was definitely one of my favorite reads of 2009. I actually read it in just a few days (I should admit that the "Paul Harvey rest of the story" is that - for a couple of the days - I was ill and stayed in bed with little else to do). It was a rare treat for me to be at work (the last couple of days of reading) "clockwatching" - even more than usual - and waiting for five o'clock so I could rush home and get back to my reading. Not many books have had this effect on me.

I totally agree with you on the Aliena and Ellen characters. Both great and enchanting...

Charley said...

This one is en route to me at my library. The size is a bit daunting, so I'm glad to hear that, despite its size, it reads quickly. Your post has made me look all the more forward to reading it.

Avid Reader said...

bibliophilica - Sometimes having an unexpected block of time to read a good book makes the experience so much more delicious.