Review: The Pillars of the Earth

The Pillars of the EarthThe Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Years ago while visiting my grandparents, my grandfather recommended this book to me. The recommendation came after a trip to the library in which I checked out the usual brain-candy that teenagers gravitate toward and I expect the recommendation came as a hope to get me to pick up something a bit more challenging than the latest tie-in novel for whatever sci-fi series I was into at the moment.

He described the story to me and I have to admit I sought out the book at the time but was immediately turned off by the sheer page count. At the time, I couldn’t imagine spending 1000 pages hearing about the building of a cathedral during the 12th Century. (This rejection, of course, made me a bit of hypocrite since I’d read all 1000 plus pages of "It" at that point, but a lot of that was while sick in bed with the flu.)

Over the years, I kept hearing from various people about how good "Pillars of the Earth" was and I was always reminded of my grandfather’s recommendation. It was one of those books I kept thinking I needed to read just to see if it was as good as everyone says it is and even went so far as to impulsively buy a copy a couple of years ago. It then languished on my to be read pile for years. Every time it tried to work its way up to the top of the pile or even into the top five, another book or two came along to distract me.

And then, I heard they were making a mini-series version of the book for Starz. The ads intrigued me and I realized that being a book snob, I had to read the book before I saw the show. And so, twenty plus years after the initial recommendation and after a lot of glowing praise by a lot of people who’s opinions on books I respect, "Earth" finally worked its way to the top of my pile.

Going into it, I was a bit worried I might have built up the book so much in my mind that no novel could live up to the expectations placed on it. Thankfully, the book does live up to the praise heaped on it by so many for so long. I’ve not read a lot of other works by Ken Follett, but scanning his list of other works I can see how this book is an exception to the standard Follett novel.

It’s the story of the building of a 12th Century cathedral, including all the politics surrounding it. Filled with a wealth of characters–many likeable, many unlikeable and some that go back and forth–the novel more than sustains itself for the close to 1000 pages. The way in which various characters keep intersecting into and out of each others’ lives is well done and while it could have been contrived, it works well for the story. The ups and downs, the political maneuvering and the characters’ journeys all make this a fascinating, compelling and fun novel.

I won’t so so far to say it’s one of my favorite books. It was enjoyable and fun and it certainly more than managed to hold my interest. But maybe my expectations of it being the "greatest thing ever" did play a factor in my giving it only four stars instead of five. Don’t get me wrong–it’s probably more like a four and a half star book. But there’s something special about a five star book and "Earth" just seems to be missing it.

So if you’re like me and wondering if you should try it–give it a whirl. Don’t wait twenty years to read it. I wish I hadn’t. I wish I’d been able to read it and share a discussion of the story with my grandfather before he’d passed away.

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1 Comment

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One response to “Review: The Pillars of the Earth

  1. mrjonahemery

    I hadn’t even heard about it until this year. It was very good but I absolutely hated the breaks in the story where he goes off on cathedral architecture. Did you know there’s a sequel? I think I might read it next.

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