Saturday, February 28, 2009

The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett

Here is another book for the Medieval Challenge that I was unable to complete before the challenge ended. Only one book to go! I chose this book because it is historical fiction that takes place during the Medieval period - the twelfth century to be exact. The final book I am reading is another Medieval text - The Canterbury Tales, by Chaucer, in a Modern English prose format.
The Pillars of the Earth is a rather difficult book to describe for a review, but I will do my best here. It begins in 1123, with a description of a hanging, where the lover of the man being hanged puts a curse on the three men who have sentenced him. From there it jumps to 1135, where we begin to learn the story of Tom Builder, an out-of-work mason who's greatest dream is to build a cathedral. After this point it is a little bit difficult to give any kind of coherent synopsis without just telling you the story of the entire book. We meet Prior Phillip, a monk with a big heart who constantly underestimates the cruelty and maliciousness of others; Ellen, the mother of Jack, who is the girl who cursed the three men in the prologue, who now lives with her eleven-year-old son in the forest; William Hamleigh, the son of a power-hungry mother and father, with a mean streak in him that makes him the obvious villain; and Aliena, daughter of the Earl of Shiring, who follows her own heart, even when it ends up costing her family everything. These are the characters that the novel follows over thirty years, as they are all tied into the fate of the building of the Kingsbridge Cathedral.
This book is an incredibly in-depth and well researched story of this time period, known as The Anarchy, a time of civil war in England between Empress Maud and King Stephen, after the first King Henry dies without leaving an heir. The town of Kingsbridge is not a real place in England, but modeled after an amalgam of many such towns of the middle ages (I think there is actually a Kingsbridge in England, but this is not supposed to be the same place). The characters are all very well drawn, although Follett's efforts to make us hate William are a little bit over the top (how many women does a man need to rape before we get the idea that he's the bad guy?). And all throughout the book Follett does an excellent job of really making us care about the characters, through the tradgedies and disappointments, as well as through the good times. The other issue I had is minor, but it seems that Follett does not trust his readers to remember what happened 100 pages ago, so he reiterates the story for you to the point where you want to say, "Yes I am reading this book, I know about that." But maybe for some readers, that is helpful. Either way, I highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys family sagas or historical fiction, or anyone who just enjoys a good story.
In addition to the Medieval Challenge, this book is another one I am using for both the A to Z Reading Challenge and the New Author Challenge. I am also using it for the What's in a Name Challenge. That is a fun one where you read books with a specific theme in the title. This title is for category number five - a book with a "building" in the title ("pillars" are part of a building, right?).

1 comment:

Paula said...

I read The Pillars of the Earth quite a few years ago now and it is still one of my favorite books. A wonerful story and so well written. It was my first Ken Follett. I love all of his, but this one by far exceeds the rest.