30/08/2010

THE PILLARS OF THE EARTH (1989) - BOOK REVIEW


It takes  more than 30 years to build the magnificent Kingsbridge Cathedral in this book; it took Ken Follet 3 years and 3 months to write this epic story, it took me 13 days  to get to the end of this extraordinary tale.
In a time of civil war, famine and religious strife, there rises a magnificent Cathedral in Kingsbridge. Against this backdrop, lives entwine: Tom, the master builder, Aliena, the noblewoman, Philip, the prior of Kingsbridge, Jack, the artist in stone and Ellen, the woman from the forest who casts a curse. At once, this is a sensuous and enduring love story and an epic that shines with the fierce spirit of a passionate age,  the middle of the twelfth century, primarily during the time sometimes called the Anarchy, between  the sinking of the White Ship and the murder of Thomas Becket.

"The Pillars of the Earth" opens with a prologue that vaguely introduces future characters and a mystery that will gradually tie the numerous characters together. It is exciting, gripping and sets the expectations high all the time.
If I must be honest, my reading speed rose once the narration leaves Tom Builder and Follett begins to bring us into the major part of the story involving Brother Philip of St.-John-In-The-Forest. Philip is an incredibly engaging character, my best favourite with Jack Jackson and Aliena. Philip’s strong Christian conviction is honest without being preachy or pedantic.  Jack Jackson is the sharply intelligent and rebellious son of charismatic (a witch?) Ellen, who brought him up in the forest; Archdeacon Waleran Bigod, the self-serving and double-dealing priest is just too slick for words; Aliena is the beautiful daughter of a fallen earl who reveals immediately as a fascinatingly admirable heroine and moreover as a strong brave young woman whose strength is underlined by the weakness and flaws of the brother she so much loves and always supports, Richard.Actually,n one of the protagonist is perfect - all have their flaws that make them undeniably human. Well, William Hamleigh is only wicked, incredibly wicked, unbearably stupid and wicked.

The story is long. It has to be - it's about the building of a Gothic cathedral, which takes twenty, thirty years to build . Everything that could go wrong does go wrong, as is to be expected with a project of such expanse and , especially, in such a troubled historical period.  A seemingly endless series of twists and turns and disgraces flows under the reader’s eyes and you go on thinking,  "Good Lord, what else could happen?" all the time.
   
However, it is an incredibly good  story. A real page turner that won my suspicion and prejudice against best – sellers. Brilliant.
Any complain? The language. I find Ken Follett’s language quite elementary sometimes. Wanted or not, I find that he could have made diction a bit more refined. It is such a good story! But I can even understand that one thousand pages, with hundreds of thousands of words are not easy to cope with. I’m not a writer, I’m only a scribbler, but as I reader I highly appreciate a good choice of  beautiful words.
 

Now I must, definitely must, see the series. Especially because Tom Builder is Rufus Sewell and Prior Philip is Matthew Mac Fadyen.  I’ll start hunting immediately...

20 comments:

Jenny @ Kerrfect! said...

We just finished watching series of POTE lastnight. It was really good (what isn't that has Matthew MacFadYUM in it?), but The book was SO much better. They changed SO much (especially in the last 3 episodes) from how it was in the book that I lost track. I was telling my hubby as we watched what was different in the movie, but it just became too much. They seemed to throw a bunch of things into the film that are not in the book at all, which to me just seemed to confuse the story a little. MacfadYUM is excellent though and the kid playing the lead is goofy looking, but a really good actor.

I posted about the book a couple days ago ( http://travisandjennykerr.com/kerrfect/?p=4872 ) and now I have to go make a post about the movie! hahah I'll probably do that AFTER my doctors appointment this afternoon though!

MARIA GRAZIA said...

Thanks Jenny! Directly to your review, then!
So, is the series worth watching or not?

RAfandreamer said...

Very good review Maria! I liked the book, though it got on my nerves sometimes with all the bad things happening to the good endearing characters and with Waleran and William always getting away with things. LOL
Now we just have to watch the TV adaptation and compare, it must be good with Matthew, Rufus and Ian in the leading roles, the acting must be superb!
I already bought Ken Follett's World Without End,I hope it's good. When am I going to read it? I sincerely don't know, it's in my long queueing list!!!
Many thanks!!

JaneGS said...

I read this book shortly after it came out and came away feeling that it was okay but not wonderful. Now that there's an adaptation, I'm thinking I'll reread it again.

>find Ken Follett’s language quite elementary sometimes. Wanted or not, I find that he could have made diction a bit more refined.

Maybe this is why I remember it as not fantastic--I like good writing even better than a good story, and authors lose me when the language falls short. I'm willing to give it another go to test that theory :)

Marie said...

We stumbled across the TV series perusing DirectTV On Demand & I was glad that we watching three episoses so far. The actors did quite well (so far that I've seen) but I don't know if I would want to read the book now that I know the gist of the story. Maria~ I would suggest watching it since the actors were quite delicious.

MARIA GRAZIA said...

@RAfandreamer
My friends and my husband, who read also World Without End years ago, told me it is not worth reading ... very disappointing , they said. And I won't do it! I'd like to see the series, though I fear being confused by the many cuts and changes I've read about. Thanks for commenting!
@JaneGS
I'm quite like you, Jane. Reading lots of classics, both in Italian and in English , I've become quite demanding . I can distinguish books to read for fun from great books, but usually my evaluation is more based on my emotional response.
Thanks, as usual, for your interesting contributions!

MARIA GRAZIA said...

@Marie
Thanks , Marie, for your suggestion. I'll try to find the series as soon as possible and watch it.
I can understand why you don't want to read the book now. That's why I decided it to read it first. Cheers!

littlevictories said...

POSSIBLE SPOILERS TO FOLLOW:

I'm so glad you posted about Pillars of the Earth. I haven't picked up the book yet but finished the miniseries a couple of days ago (you can watch it on Netflix instant play BTW or you can look it up on Sidereel.com for links to watch it online). I'm planning on giving it a read in the near future but must know: In the book, does Tom's youngest ever discover who his parents were? They barely addressed the subject in the series.

Marg said...

This is one of those books that I have been meaning to read for ages - one day I actually will.

I think it is a book that readers really love or that they really don't as I know quite a few people who don't like it all that much.

MARIA GRAZIA said...

@littlevictories
Yes! Jonathan discovers who his parents were, this is part of the final investigation Jack and Jonathan have to carry out to save Philip from Waleran Bigod's attempt to accuse him ... Let's stop here. The book is worth reading but, maybe, before watching the series.
@Marg
I was prejudiced, I must confess, I refused reading it when my husband suggested it to me long ago but now the series - which I still have to watch - was an irresistible stimulus. I'm glad I read it. It took me some time, but I'm glad. It's not a perfect book but it's an epic, grippic, exciting tale.

Thanks both of you for dropping by and commenting
MG

buddyt said...

Try to get hold of the sequel World Without End.

I read it a number of months ago and enjoyed it as well.

It is only 1111 pages (at least in the hardcover I have !)

Carol T

alesya said...

i watched the tv series without reading the book and i found it very good!but i read a lot of things are different from the book and true book fans are very disappointed...

littlevictories said...

Thank you! Ooooo sounds as if Jonathan is more of an integral character in the book. Now I absolutely must read it. I'll be interested to know what you think about the television series.

MARIA GRAZIA said...

@buddy_t
I'm not going to read the sequel because of the neagative opinions I heard and of the little time vs many interests I experience! But , please, do it and let us know what you think of it! Thanks for your comment!
@Alesya
Yeah! I've read about the comparison between the series and the book (but no too much) . They say there are lots of cuts and changes especially in the last 3 episodes. But I want to see it with my own eyes! Ciao, Alessia, e grazie!
@littlevictories
Yeah! I think you'd better read it. I'm going to watch the series very soon and I hope to review it here on FLY HIGH!

Karen said...

I'm so glad you enjoyed it, MG! :)
I read the novel when it came out - gosh! more than 20 years already! - and found it quite enjoyable. Not what I'd call 'literature', but a very good reading, flawless in its genre. I couldn't say the same about the sequel, though: it's a real waste of time and money.
Can't wait to hear your opinion about the series!
BFN,
xx K

MARIA GRAZIA said...

@Karen
I'll follow your suggestion (how could I not?) and avoid wasting my time on the sequel. Going to watch the series asap and then I'll be able to compare.
Thanks, as usual, for you comments and precious suggestions!
Hugs. MG

tyme_4_t said...

I read the book when I heard that wonderful Matthew Macfadyen was going to be in the mini-series. It took a bit to get into but I did end up enjoying it.
The mini-series had a fair number of plot changes but overall I thought it was fantastic! As someone described Matthew Macfayden "a hunk of a monk!" he was so excellent as Prior Philip. What I think made the plot changes acceptable to me were two things:
1 - Ken Follett was very pleased with the adaptation and even appears in a scene! So if the author is ok with changes, so am I!
2 - The casting is PERFECT! Ian McShane should win countless awards as his portrayal of Waleran Bigod - just amazing performance.

I hope you can track down this mini-series - I think you will enjoy - even if you don't....Matthew & Rufus & Eddie are so lovely to look at...wink wink!

phylly3 said...

I noticed this series was on one of the new stations we have on our digital cable. I got very excited and then saw the paperback version at the grocery store and bought it! So I haven't had a chance to get to the book yet, and I only managed to watch bits and pieces of the series on tv. How many episodes were there? It just finished, and I at least got to watch the final episode! Sheesh! Reruns would be nice.
I can't figure out why they are showing so many good shows over the summer!
I haven't read a Ken Follet novel since "The Eye of the Needle" so we'll see how I like the novel, whenever I get around to it!

MARIA GRAZIA said...

@tyme_4_t
I'm so ready to like it that ... I think I will. And, be sure I'll track it down sooner or later.
Thank you!
MG

MARIA GRAZIA said...

@phylly3
The series is made up of 8 episodes. So, you didn't see it. I want to do it soon!
If you hadn't seen it yet, you should read the book first. That's better, I think. And, BTW, this was my secon Follett too. I read "A Place called Freedom" long ago but didn't like it very much.
Hugs, P.