Sunday, September 14, 2008

The Pillars Of The Earth - Ken Follett

Will no one rid me of this turbulent priest?
-Henry II, speaking of Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury. (Becket was murdered in Canterbury Cathedral shortly afterwards.)

The Pillars Of The Earth spans about 40 years during the 12th century in England when King Stephen and Empress Maud are locked in a power struggle for the throne after old King Henry dies without an heir. All of this has a trickle-down effect on the fictional town of Kingsbridge, which is trying to complete its cathedral. Good and evil clash repeatedly as fortunes seesaw back and forth. Nobles plot against each other and even priests and bishops are continually jockeying for position, whether inflamed by personal ambition or what they feel is best for the church. This novel is a great read because of a storyline that carries the reader along effortlessly. The good characters are good and the bad characters are wretched beyond compare, so there's no real heavy lifting required.

I enjoyed all the details Follett included about everyday life in the 1100s, and his architectural descriptions are detailed and quite educational. Every now and then, though, I was jerked out of that lovely haze of verisimilitude when characters would use words or phrases that were decidedly un-medieval. For example, a young Spanish noblewoman is referred to as "sexy", and one of the characters thinks the Latin phrases used in masses are "mumbo-jumbo". In addition, Follett has a tendency to send characters in a reverie and they invariably re-summarize their actions up to that point.

This is just nitpicking though -- these things are minuscule compared the overall enjoyment and excitement I was experiencing. Although it seemed a bit of a stretch to get Prior Philip to Canterbury in time for Thomas Becket's final moments, Follett succeeded admirably, and the scene at Canterbury is both horrific and moving.

The Pillars Of The Earth was pure reading entertainment. I'm hoping to find the sequel to this novel, World Without End, and I will be on the lookout for that as well as another Follett novel, The Eye Of The Needle.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for this review- I almost picked this up yesterday but wasn't sure. I think I will add it to my TBR list now.

Lisa said...

I actually read this for an undergraduate Medieval England class years ago. The instructor assigned this along with some others that I can't really remember now. I really enjoyed it and have purchased the sequel but haven't read it, yet. As far as I know all of Follett's other books are more along the lines of thrillers.

Anonymous said...

I've got this on my TBR shelves, thank you for reminding me why.

herschelian said...

I read this years ago, and remember being swept off to early mediaeval England. Other Follet books have disappointed me.
If you enjoyed this, you might well like the Brother Cadfael series by Ellis Peters - some of which were made into a superlative TV series starring Derek Jacobi (one of the UK's most esteemed actors.

Susan said...

I haven't read this yet. Every time I get to the scene where the baby is abandoned in the woods - yes, I know that's like page 5, but I start crying and have to put the book down. Everyone raves, my whole family read it, and I can't! Figures. I may yet try again.....must pick a day when my hormones are good....I like his other work so I should like this one... I love also how you describe everyone coming up to you while you are reading it!! I love books!! (even ones I can't read but I know are good....)

Les said...

I loved this book! I have the sequel in my stacks (where it's been sitting since last Christmas!!). Follett is a marvelous story-teller. One of my favorites was Night Over Water. I need to read that one again.

Jill said...

Thanks for the great review! You mentioned that there was no heavy lifting involved, but you failed to mention the heavy lifting involved in just picking the book up! That book is a chunky monkey. I also thoroughly enjoyed this book, reveiwed on my site here: