Thursday, August 8, 2013

The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett

This is a monumental saga which I waited too many years to read and as much as I enjoyed this  historical novel that spans the 12th century  years in England and Europe between 1120 to  about 1174,  my review will be brief.  What can I say that has not been acclaimed by critics ever since the book was  first published in 2002?  I read this in June 2013; at least it did not take me as many years to post this review as it did to fulfill my intention to read it.   Now I have awaiting to be read,  the sequel, "World Without End"   which I will begin when we return next month from a trip. 

Follett is a contemporary British writer of thrillers and historical fiction and considering the millions in  worldwide sales of his books, he is at the top of the favorite writers for many folks, including me.  His books are not for timid readers; this New American Library Deluxe edition in paperback, published in 2007 is over 1000 pages. Beginning with the preface written by the author about how this book came to be written over three years;  there was not a word that I could miss.   

He begins, with  full agreement from me at the start, "Nothing happens the way you plan
it.......A lot of people were surprised by The Pillars of the Earth, including m,  I was known as a thriller writer. In the book business when you have had a success, the smart thing to do is write the same sort of thing, once a year for the rest of your life.  Clowns should not try to play Hamlet; pop starts should not write symphonies, I should not have risked my reputation by writing something out of character and over ambitious."   Follett  went outside his norm  to write this and  we are all enriched by that, yet, he is correct, stick to what you do best, use your skills and make them work for you. The characters in Pillars follow that advice.  The sinister evil people truly remain that way, people really do not change that much.  Look for a facade when  change is touted.      

The history about building cathedrals is enriched by every character in this saga, good and evil. The novel opens November 25, 1120  when the White Ship sets sail for England, as quoted from A.L.Poole in From Domesday Book to Magna Carta.  Immediately the author follows with the first words,  I could not resist..."The small boys came early to the hanging.  It was still  dark when the first three or four of them sidled out of the hovels, quiet as cats in their felt boots."  When I read "The End of Your Life Book Club", (see my review July 2013, this blog) I was pleased to see this was one of the great books Will and his mother shared and that first sentence of Pillars in quoted.  

Through many characters and happenings weaving lives tragedies and triumphs,  this novel follows Philip, prior of Kingsbridge, "a devout and resourceful monk driven to build the greatest Gohic cathedral the world has ever known,"  Tom the  poor mason who becomes the architect, the Lady Aliena who carries a lifelong dark shameful secret to Philip's appointment  to bishop, and the caning of the King Henry II in Canterbury in 1174.    There is every human emotion in this novel as well as every conceivable human activity--murder, arson, treachery, torture, tolerance, love, lust, triumph the good, the bad and the ugly.  

Absolutely a 5 ***** read.     I wish I had a list of all the characters but I read this without any attempt to compose that I was just that engaged by this epic.