It has been some time since I read Ken Follett's The Pillars of the Earth (way before I started this blog) but the book struck me so much it has been ingrained in my memory as one of the best books I have ever read. And since I still have no post here about it I decided to write one about this remarkable 1000-page saga.
The epic story takes us back to the 12th century when England was about to erupt in civil war. In the priory of Kingsbridge, Philip takes up his post as the new prior and he is determined to rebuild the town's crumbling old cathedral into one that would be talked about far and wide. He hires Tom Builder, a mason who is desperate to find work to support his two children. Tom meets and falls in love with Ellen, a woman who lives in the forest with her son Jack. As the family work for Prior Philip in exchange for food and lodging, Tom takes as his apprentice Ellen's son Jack who quickly shows an inclination for building. It doesn't take Philip and Tom long to discover that they both share the same dream of building one of the most beautiful cathedrals in England.
|Ken Follett at Salisbury Cathedral, |
his inspiration for Kingsbridge Cathedral
The Pillars of the Earth may be the most different among Ken Follett's works but for me it is the most wonderful. The story drew me in from the beginning into this magical world of medieval England, with kings and queens, priories, farm life, intrigue, mystery, revenge, love and murder, spanning 50 years. The plot is so intense, I didn't even notice the 1000 pages go by. And after I finished the novel I was still craving for more.
Some readers may find that there are too many characters in the novel, but in my opinion they are all very rich and well-developed, something I always something I look for in a book. Other than Prior Philip, Tom, Ellen, and Jack, there is also the intense rivalry between the two noble families - the Hamleighs and the Bartholomews. The Hamleighs are embarrassed when their son William courts Aliena, the beautiful daughter of Earl Bartholomew, and is turned down. After Stephen is crowned King, the Bartholomews lose all their land to the Hamleighs. Aliena later proves to be resourceful and strong. She takes up a wool business and grows rich over time. She finances her brother Richard's knighthood with the goal of reclaiming their family estate and have Richard become the new earl. There is also the cathedral itself, which Ken Follett said is also a character on its own.
Follett made learning about medieval England very interesting and not at all boring. His meticulous research blends fiction with historical fact and weaves a compelling story that is hard to put down. If you like architecture you will definitely enjoy this book filled with fascinating details about the building of cathedrals and castles! I was already interested in architecture even before I read this book, but after reading it I went straight to the bookstore and bought all the good books on architecture that I could find! And even if you never thought anything of English history, with all its wars, castles and cathedrals, this book will make you want to learn more about it!
Even if the book is lengthy it is divided into six manageable parts. Follett does an excellent job telling the story from the viewpoint of the different characters. Each part is told from the perspective of one of the characters, giving you an intimate understanding of the deepest thoughts and feelings of the character.
If you are still not convinced, The Pillars of the Earth is actually included in the 60+ books of Oprah's Book Club. Oprah even shared "It's such a great read. It's like nothing I would ever read or had ever read before...I got to 800 pages and I slowed myself down because I didn't want it to end."
The Pillars of the Earth has already been adapted into a TV mini series by HBO. Check out the trailer here.