Sunday, October 26, 2008

The Pillars of the Earth, by Ken Follett

The Pillars of the Earth, by Ken Follett

Set against a backdrop of factions warring over the English throne after the death of Henry I, this novel tells the sprawling story of a fictional Kingsbridge cathedral. On the surface this is an simple adventure with heavy doses of political intrigue, but the surprisingly accurate historical backdrop anchors the story. The actors are fairly one-dimensional (villains have no redeeming qualities and heroes are steadfast and well-meaning) but having them interact with real figures such as King Stephen and Thomas Becket gives the impression of depth and character development. The plot is straightforward and predictable, with the loose ends being resolved in a satisfying manner. With thin characterization and a linear plot this sounds like a boring read, but somehow Follett manages to turn this into an excellent page turner.

The book is obviously meticulously researched, with long passages dedicated to describing how builders in the twelfth century were able to construct massive buildings or how the Catholic Church was becoming an active part of politics and everyday life. “Increasingly, people were expected to be Christians every day, not just on Sundays. They needed more than just rituals, according to the modern view: they wanted explanations, rulings, encouragement, exhortation.” Sometimes this research is used to the books detriment; for instance at one point Follett spends several pages describing a bear baiting for no seemingly other reason than to show off his hard work. More than once I found my self glossing over long passages of exposition like this, but it didn’t affect my overall opinion of the novel. For a nearly 1000 page novel Pillars of the Earth was a very fast read, and I am looking forward to reading the sequel, World Without End.

First Sentence:
In a broad valley, at the foot of a sloping hillside, beside a clear bubbling stream, Tom was building a house.

1 comment:

crazyBobcat said...

Despite being well-enough written, I had a hard time with the book. I guess I just didn't identify with the characters enough to really care. I'm glad you enjoyed it, though.

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