on December 5, 2007
This is a wonderful book-a historical novel fan's dream come true. I have read this book twice and loved it even more the second time. If you only read one book this year, make it this one. Even though it is long and daunting in size, you will find it to be hard to put down. While reading this novel, I resented the intrusion of my job, my household chores and other mundane activies like eating and sleeping. While I believe it would make a great movie, I would be afraid that it would be spoiled by the need to cut so much. Thank you, Mr. Follett! It's a treasure.
PILLARS OF THE EARTH is one of those books one can really enjoy and will leave a memorable aftertaste long after the last page is turned.
The story is set in the middle ages (12th century) and starts in a stormy night full of death and new life, desperation and hope. It then follows the story of a stone-mason (Tom Builder) and his family in his efforts to continue building a cathedral (Kingsbridge) and, thus, carve out a living for his family.
The story, of course, also branches out into a number of interweaving stories, from the villainous lord William Hamleigh and pious Prior Phillip, to beautiful Aliena and Tom Builder's children and their own ambitions and schemes.
KEN FOLLETT is a well above average English writer (I would recommend also trying his NIGHT OVER WATER). If you have came across interviews of his declaring himself an atheist, do not let this discourage you from buying this book: he approaches a religious theme (the building of a cathedral by a monastery Prior) with respect and fairness.
Although not a masterpiece (and hardly a classic), PILLARS OF THE EARTH does occupy No.33 on the BBC's Big Read (a 2003 survey with the goal of finding England's Best-loved Book), just below Gabriel García Márquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude and above...Charles Dickens' David Copperfield (yeah, I know...) - which goes to show how much people are enjoying the easy narrative and interesting plot.
The book runs for almost 1,000 pages, so make sure to have some free time ahead before getting started.
This masterful, well-written saga of life in twelfth century England is epic storytelling at its best. The author weaves a rich and colorful tapestry of people, places, and events surrounding the building of a magnificent cathedral in the medieval town of Kingsbridge.
Early twelfth century England was a country in a state of flux. King Henry I had died without a male heir. His daughter Maude was to be queen. The English barons, for the most part, however, refused to swear fealty to her. Maude's first cousin, Stephen of Blois, then usurped her rights and proclaimed himself king. This was to plunge England into a civil war that was to last for many, many years, turning England into a virtually lawless and tumultuous land, until Maude's son became King Henry II of England.
For most people, however, life would go on with every day concerns being paramount. The book tells the story of a number of these lives. One story is that of Tom, a master builder, whose life long dream was to build a cathedral. The lives of Tom and his family would intersect that of a humble and intelligent monk named Phillip who would become the prior at Kingsbridge Priory. The fates would intervene and provide Tom with an opportunity to pursue his dream.
Their lives would intersect with a number of other individuals, some good, some evil, who would have a great impact on their lives and their goals. Tom would lose his first wife, Agnes, by whom he already had two children, brutish Alfred and sweet Martha, due to complications sustained during the birth of another son. This son was to provide a connection between Tom and Phillip of which Phillip would long be unaware.
Tom would ultimately marry Ellen, a strong willed independent woman of the forest, perceived by many to be a witch. Her son Jack, a sensitive, highly intelligent lad, whose father was deceased, would grow to manhood. His dream would begin where Tom's had left off. In Jack's background, however, was a mystery surrounding his deceased father, a French jongleur. That mystery in some way involved Sir Percy Hamleigh, Waleran Bigod, and Prior James, the old prior of Kingsbridge before Phillip.
When Earl Bartholomew of Shiring makes the treasonous mistake of siding with Maude in the conflict with Stephen, he ends up on the losing side. Sir Percy Hamleigh and his son William, siding with Stephen, attack the Earl's castle, and take Earl Bartholomew captive. Imprisoned for treason, he loses his earldom to the Hamleighs. His young son and heir, Richard, and his daughter, the beautiful Lady Aliena, are left to fend for themselves, but not until William Hamleigh has slaked his thirst for revenge upon them. You see, William had been engaged at one time to marry the Lady Aliena, only to be spurned by her to his vast public humiliation. This was the moment for which he had been waiting. Aliena and Richard would ultimately migrate to Kingsbridge to begin a new life.
Meanwhile, the church itself was having its own political intrigues. Phillip was tricked by Waleran Bigod, an ambitious arch-deacon, into supporting him for the post of bishop. Phillip would later best Waleran and incur his enmity for a lifetime. Remigius, a spy for Waleran Bigod, was a monk at Kingsbridge Priory who saw his dream of becoming prior at Kingsbridge dissipate with the advent of Phillip. He would spend a lifetime undermining Phillip and plotting against him. Moreover, the fate of Kingsbridge and the building of its cathedral would always seem to hinge upon the political vagaries of the time. Its fortunes would ebb and flow with the political winds.
Ever present throughout the destinies of all these characters is the age old battle between good and evil. Complicating it further were those who sought to do good but did evil, believing that the end justified the means. Spanning over fifty turbulent years, this is a spellbinding story of love, hate, faith, betrayal, revenge, and triumph. Against a backdrop of civil war, the sharply drawn characters grasp the imagination of the reader. Twelfth century England is laid out in painstaking detail, providing an unforgettable backdrop for the lives lived within the pages of this memorable work of historical fiction. This book is simply riveting. Bravo!
on August 15, 2008
When a novel is as thick as "Pillars of the Earth", I am usually skeptical whether it will keep me interested throughout. And, the start was slow, but only for a couple of pages. And then, it really started. I had a tough time putting the book down before I reached the ending. The depiction of medieval times was so vivid that I could picture the villages, the buildings and the people quite clearly in my mind, almost as if I were watching a movie instead of reading a novel. The storyline is very good and kept me on my toes as if the book were a modern day suspense thriller. If you want to spend a couple of days reading a good novel, you cannot go wrong with this one.