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Pillars of the Earth review

The Pillars of the Earth The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett

My review

rating: 3 of 5 stars
I like long books, usually. It means we get to spend more time with characters we’ve come to care about, if the author has done their job properly.

Even though I liked most of the characters in this book, I almost put this 900+ page book down in several places starting at about page 500.

Why? The try-fail cycle was almost formulaic. By about the middle of the book I found myself groaning every time something new happened to thwart the people. I think this is because only a couple of the characters ever really grew from the experience. The ensemble cast was interestingly drawn from the beginning, but once figured out they became cardboard characters. We knew, for instance, that good Prior Phillip would always come up with a clever plan. Ellen would always be a beloved heretic living in the forest. Jack would always be driven like Tom to build the cathedral.

The thing that became more and more irritating as the book commenced was the fact that many people had modern behaviors and ideals. And the clincher to make me be really bugged by this book was the unrealistic treatment of women (for the time period) by this book.

A 25 year old young woman is a master stained glass artisan? If there had been any shred of cultural credibility in this book before, this dissolved it. A woman would never have been allowed such work. A man would not have achieved the status of master by that age, unless he was a genius.

Okay, so why do I give this book 3 stars? The cathedral building! It was beautiful and glorious to see the development of cathedral architecture in a narrative.

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  1. Hi, after hearing so many rave about this book, your review is a breath of fresh air. I wholeheartedly agree with your criticisms. However, the thing that made me cringe all the way through was his simplistic, almost childlike writing style. But for it’s size, & a bit of unnecessary raunchiness, this book would be perfect for a 10 year old. His insistence on explaining to death even the simplest situations was insulting. Only my stubbornness kept me going with this one.

  2. The only thing intriguing about this book for me was the cover. I have to honestly say that I didn’t even make it to the middle of the book before I threw it down. What I read was so poorly written that it took away from what could have been a wonderful story.

  3. kotinka –

    Since there are children in the book, this factor could really have been played up. It would have made a fantastic historical fiction book for children. The places the raunchiness went sometimes really surprised me.

    This is a whole other blog post, but sex in literature is just not a good direction that a lot of books have gone. It’s easy to write, and gets people’s emotions riled up, and so can easily mask poor story telling. I really think that is what happened to make this book a best seller. Plus, people thought they were actually reading true to life historical stuff.

    D Nichols –

    I have to admit to being OC about finishing a book. The book got worse in the middle, had a bit of a rally 3/4 of the way through, and then became a train wreck of modern sensibilities imposed on medieval characters.

  4. i appreciate the comments here. i haven’t finished the book yet–only on page 624–but i will before my new book club meets. I have been writing in the the margins my snarking comments, such as “SURPRISE!” just so that i can get them off my chest.
    the fairytalesue nature of this tale makes it come across as contrived and insulting. the yay-we-have-wons juxtaposed to the oh-no-we-have-been-defeateds get annoying.
    i agree with the person who talks about the sex details as an attempt to mask the mundane has validity.
    I appreciate a good sex scene and all, but if these were omitted, this would be perfect for a children’s read.

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