It's been on Oprah's Book Club, it's in the Whitcoulls Top 100 list... widely acclaimed but is it good? The Ken Follett novel The Pillars of The Earth intrigued me from the moment I picked it up and read the blurb. When you read a LOT, like I do, there's a danger of finding some above-average books rather mundane. It seems to me that there's simply a limit to how many times you can read a similar plot line in a certain time period. The idea of a novel spanning the construction of a cathedral in the thirteenth and fourteenth century appealed to me. The idea was innovative and it appeared at first read to be a bit of an ensemble saga novel - following multiple character stories over a long period of time. I have to admit I'm a bit partial to this novel structure... I find that it stays fresh even if the novel is a longer length.
The characters are well constructed; key characters are outlined extensively but I was rapt at the way that background characters were named and included, rather than just being "that monk" or "the Jewish lender". Especially in the Kingsbridge Priory scenes, it gave the feeling of community so necessary to the understanding of the setting. By the same token, I was pleased that some of the characters retained their sense of mystery until the story lines were neatly tied off in the last few chapters. As much as it frustrated me that Jack Jackson wasn't finding the answers he wished for about Jack Shareburg and Ellen, the final denouement where resolution is brought about was perfectly timed and brought about further resolutions that were highly unexpected.
What didn't I like? The death of a key character sat awkwardly with me - I wondered whether it was really necessary to kill this character off when his story was by no means exhausted. The more I thought about this though, the more I felt it was true to life... just because you want a person to stick around, just because you feel that they have vastly more story to go, there's no guarantee that they won't be taken from you. I did have concerns about the depiction of vendettas amongst the higher clergy in this story but this is nicely resolved in a speech by Prior Philip near the end of the novel as he extends kindness to Waleran.
Above all, a book full of intriguing themes: the fallibility of man, the hypocrisy of the early church, pride, doing what you want as opposed to doing what you know is right.
4 out of 5 stars.
My apologies to my kiwi readers, for whom this has come through on a Monday morning. After a particularly crazy Saturday night (that involved serenading the taxi driver) and a Sunday afternoon spent at the hospital I was knackered... and I really wanted to do this book justice. Love you guys... and hey, it's still Sunday afternoon somewhere :D