Follet “Pillars of the Earth” — My Review, and Reaction
I finished Follet’s book, Pillars of the Earth. The book was recommended to me by several people, so I was looking forward to reading it. Here are my reactions. If you don’t know what the book is, it is a story of several generations of people whose lives are intertwined around the construction of a cathedral in the fictional town of Kingsbridge, England in the 11th and early 12th centuries. Caution: Spoilers within!
It is a LONG book, therefore, it kept me entertained for more than the usual amount of time. A book like this, in paperback topping out at nearly 1,000 pages, kept me occupied for a good week of evening and weekend reading. That’s fun. Usually just about the time I’m really enjoying the book, it is over.
Follet is a good teller of a tale. This book was very long and wound its way around several generations of people, and a host of different characters, concentrating in finally on several key characters. Tom, a master builder, and his step-son Jack. They are the good guys, well, if you overlook the fact Jack burned a cathedral down when he was a boy, Tom’s wife Ellen. Aliena, daughter of an Earl. Evil Bishop Waldron. Good Prior Philip [the hero of the book], etc. The book is very engaging.
It is a fun, entertaining, light read. I would consider it good for vacation reading, something to take your mind away and put you into this time and into these lives.
Religion is treated in a balanced way. Evil people are described so not because they are monks, or priests, or bishops, but because they are evil and are abusing their office. The hero of the book, the Prior Philip, is a good man and is seen to be sincere and devoted to religion. I appreciated very much Follet’s respectful handling of Christianity in the book. It would have been easy to take a host of cheap shots at the Faith, but Follet does not and in fact shows through his character development the positive aspects of faith, courage, honor, dedication, etc. [I would have enjoyed more a story about Thomas Becket, who comes in at the very end of the "movie" -- that's how the book felt to me -- like a movie].
Follet is a good writer, but not great. I confess that Patrick O’Brian has forever ruined my ability to enjoy historical fiction. That’s not really fair to other writers. O’Brian’s books are literature, not merely pulp fiction. Follet is not quite pulp fiction, but he is no O’Brian, but then again, who is? How many writers are? If you don’t know Patrick O’Brian, get to know him.
"Pillars of the Earth" is light, fluffy and of no consequence finally. "Big issues" are not really dealt with well. I was left hungry for more detail about cathedrals, monks, medieval life, etc. I wonder what a Tom Clancy type "Pillars of the Earth" would have been like?
The book, frankly, to me at least, was a made-for-TV mini-series in print. Not that this is wrong, or even bad, but don’t expect this book to soar. It is entertaining, but not very deep. I wanted more depth, but this book didn’t provide it.
The sex. The book has graphic descriptions of rape and other inappropriate sexual activity. The word that came to mind is: salacious. Follet easily could have accomplished the same thing without the graphic detail. The author claims his book is fine for 14 year old boys, for sexual activity is shown to have its consequences. I don’t agree. The graphic nature of the scenes described, to me, detract from the book and struck me as the author inserting details to boost readership. It frankly somewhat ruined the book for me.
So, I guess I would say that if you haven’t read it, you haven’t missed all that much. It is interesting, and engaging, and you do get caught up in the characters and their stories, but at the end [and the book does end far too abruptly, even at nearly 1,000 pages, it felt like somebody told the author, "Ok, wrap it up pal." Or...the book suffered in editing, trying to keep it under 1,000 pages], you are left realizing you have just eaten a meal at McDonalds. It may have filled your belly, but it was not very nutritious.