The Pillars of the Earth, by Ken Follet

Paperback: 1008 pages

Publisher: Signet, June 29, 2010 (Originally published by William Morrow, New York in 1989)

ISBN-10: 045123281X

ISBN-13: 978-0451232816

I read this book last spring, on a whim. Honestly, there was a “buy three, get one free” sale, and I was buying three… so I searched the shop for something that looked interesting, that I may not have otherwise bought.

This is a hard review to write, as my feelings are mixed. I loved the story and sped through the 1000+ pages in less than a week. I like historical fiction, particularly stories that span generations like this. The building of the church fascinated me. It was a great idea… but just not a great book. I don’t know if that makes sense to you, but let me try to explain.

I found it very poorly written. The characters were thin and one-dimensional: either all-good, or all-evil. The plot needed work. And I just couldn’t shake the idea that Follet really didn’t understand the 12th century. Sure he may have done his research and had extensive background knowledge, but he just didn’t seem to “get it.” It was like reading about modern-day characters, wearing old-fashioned clothes (seriously, how many times did you need to specify he was wearing a tunic?) and lacking in technology. They just would not have spoken and interacted the same way in that time.

Also, and forgive me if I sound like a prude because I am not, but the book was unnecessarily violent, particularly in its treatment of women. There was just no need for so many vivid, detailed descriptions of violent rape. Describe one to get your “this guy is evil” point across, and let us use our imagination on the rest. Please.

That said, would I recommend the book? Yes – but with a caveat. It is not great literature. Not all books are. If you enjoy historical fiction, and like a good story, it’s the book for you. Otherwise, pass.

Or, check out the mini-series playing this month on CBC. I did not find out about this until I’d already missed two episodes, but thanks to the CBC website, I can catch up, and so can you. I would typically suggest you read the book first, as a movie always lacks the depth of the novel, but as depth is what I found this novel lacking, I don’t expect it to be an issue.

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