Pillars of the Earth, by Ken Follett

Epic tale of the building of a cathedral in the 1100s, covering about forty years and incorporating the story of several characters whose lives are affected by the project.

A hefty book - over 1,000 pages - but turned out to be a pretty good read. The length of it gives Follett plenty of room to flesh out his characters and their inter-weaving stories. I didn't know much about the history of this period, but while I think he uses a bit of licence, e.g. with his William Hamleigh taking part in the assassination of Thomas Becket, it all sounds very plausible.

The book reminded me most of Bernard Cornwell - a good story, with quite a bit of period detail, with an imagined set of fictional characters in a historical setting. And some reasonably explicit sex and violence. The writing wasn't particularly special: there were no sections or descriptions that I wanted to underline or quote (unlike the last book I read), but the story was well told and compulsive.

I suppose the strongest theme that came across was how powerful a polictical force the church was in those times, which meant that (a) the various kings and pretenders to the throne had to get the support of the bishops etc., and (b) many of the church leaders were in it for the power, rather than for any reasons of faith.

There was a fair amount of detail about the building project, and the problems and solutions that came up with respect to the cathedral's design, but it wasn't over-done. The focus was more on the characters, who were perhaps a little bit too black and white: they were either goodies who you rooted for, or baddies that you wanted to see getting their just deserts.

There's a sequel, World Without End which takes place a couple of years later, so I'll read that too.

Completed : 09-Oct-2009

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