The Pillars of the Earth.
I’ll admit, I was first attracted to this book because of its sheer size. I like big books and I can not lie. I also really like historical fiction, so it definitely targeted my demographic.
The book is centered around the building of a cathedral in fictional Kingsbridge, England (though there exist several towns with that name. I guess it’s like “Springfield” in The Simpsons. Good lord, I’m classy. Look at me writing about SRS BOOKS and referencing animated sitcoms. *sigh*) and like a cathedral, it’s large and intricate. Man, I’m great with the metaphors today, eh?
Anyhow, the book is perfectly constructed. (Again with the metaphors!) The plot moves forward at a perfect pace. There are definite “sides” of good v. bad in the novel, and my one complaint would be that the characters are very one-dimensional, especially the “wicked” Hamleigh family. Any real persons with the personalities of Regan and William Hamleigh would be downright sociopaths – same holds true of Bishop Waleran Bigod. The “good” characters of Prior Philip and Tom Builder are slightly more nuanced, with Jack Builder emerging as the most “real” feeling character.
In the struggle of good v. evil, the book has a lot of “one step forward, two steps back” moments that make the plot move forward without being entirely predictable. Large tragedies are interspersed with small victories and eventually, of course, the small battles culminate in winning the war. SPOILER: The cathedral ends up being built. Given that one of the reviews on the book cover is from the ever sophisticated Cosmopolitan, you can kind of guess that this book is not going to have a total downer ending since it’s not about pregnant crack addicts. Still, while it’s certainly not going to be winning the Nobel Prize, it’s not a stupid book by any means. Follett really did his research about cathedral building practices, and from that angle you can really learn quite a bit about 12th century architecture if you require an “educational” angle from your historical fiction.
I liked this book enough to pick up the “sequel” – World Without End – and I’m mentioning this here because no way am I finishing that one. The first book is excellent – the sequel… I got 200 pages in and can’t stand the clunky plot exposition and the characters are even more one-dimensional than William Hamleigh, if that’s even possible. There are constant references made to the first book in ways that don’t even really make sense, just to make the connection. Given that the book takes place 200 years later, it is rather difficult to draw direct connections, but there’s really no need for Follett to go into Hurley on Lost (look at me with the being classy again) level “I’m saying this for no purpose other than advancing the plot!” dialog – especially since Hurley does it much better! So, I’m putting this one down and moving on to something that doesn’t make me want to bang my head into a cathedral.