Thursday, January 28, 2010

What I'm Reading Now-The Pillars of the Earth

The Pillars of the Earth (Deluxe Edition) (Oprah's Book Club) Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett-All I really knew was that this was about a guy building a cathedral, but the cathedral is just the backdrop to so much more! I really enjoyed this look at life in medieval England and all the Spy-vs-Spy shenanigans carried out between the nobility and the church and even between the church and the church. I'm not usually much of a history buff-names and titles and locations and battles and politics and whatnot-and there was plenty of that in this story, but I just kept some notes on who everyone was and the basic quarrels that they had with each other, and that helped keep things straight throughout the book. It was never overwhelming or belaboured, and I thoroughly enjoyed the whole thing.

The story spans 51 years in 12th-century England and provides plenty of good guys and bad guys, and, boy, are some of the bad guys bad. There's the aptly-named Bishop Waleran Bigod who is not so much actively evil as he is greedy and power-hungry and willing to wield his power as a man of God to his advantage above all else.  William Hamleigh, on the other hand, is truly a horrific character.  William, who likes to play games of "stone the cat," William who can't get it up unless he can see fear and pain in the eyes of the woman before him, William who uses murder and rape to keep his starving tenants in line, William who, well, you get the picture.

Working on the side of good is Philip, a pious monk who genuinely believes in doing God's work by helping God's people, not by acquiring power and wealth like some people we could mention (I'm lookin' at you, Bishop Waleran).  Philip is smart, kind, and resourceful, and he finds himself in charge of a priory whose church has just burned down.  Luckily, Tom Builder, who has been roaming the country-side looking for work, preferably as master builder on a cathedral, has just arrived on scene.  As Philip considers the possibility of erecting a stone cathedral to the glory of God, he presses Tom about why it is so important to him to be appointed master builder on a project such as this:

Tom had not expected that question.  There were so many reasons.  Because I've seen it done badly, and I know I could do it well, he thought.  Because there is nothing more satisfying, to a master craftsman, than to exercise his skill, except perhaps to make love to a beautiful woman.  Because something like this gives meaning to a man's life.  Which answer did Philip want?  The prior would probably like him to say something pious.  Recklessly, he decided to tell the real truth.  "Because it will be beautiful," he said.

I think anyone who is passionate about what they do or who wants to be passionate about what they do can get behind that sentiment.  You go, Tom!  I want you to build your cathedral too!  Unfortunately, Philip's conviction is not all that is needed to build a cathedral, and so begins about 38 years of drama.

Being that this is a story of church and wars and building in 12th-century England, the majority of the characters are male, but there are two main female characters who are both strong, intelligent, independent women and are very much heroines of this story in their own rights.

I enjoyed this book far more than I thought I would, and I would encourage anyone who is intimidated by its 973 pages to give it a shot.  I think you'll be able to tell within the first couple of chapters whether it's something you'll like or not.  

Oops!  I got carried away and published before I put in my usual call for others' reviews.  I didn't run across any reviews in my blog roll, but maybe I missed yours.  If you've reviewed this, let me know, and I'll include a link to your review.  If you've read it but not reviewed it, I'd love to hear what you thought about it, so leave me a comment and let me know!


Ribbit said...

I never reviewed it elsewhere, but I read the book way back in 1990. Man, that was a long time ago. I just loved it. If you liked it, there's a sequel that's just as wonderful. I think it was called World Without End.

Dreamybee said...

I might have to check that out, although I don't know if I really *need* a sequel. I was pretty happy with how everything ended in Pillars. I'm definitely interested in checking out more Follett though.

Stephen said...

started reading this some days ago and found your post while googling for historical background to pillars. GREAT BOOK!

Dreamybee said...

Glad you're enjoying it!

Lori L said...

What a coincidence - I just started reading it last night after setting it aside for years. So far it is very good.

Dreamybee said...

I hope you enjoy it. I found myself on the edge of my seat quite a few times, staying up later than I intended to see how things were going to turn out.

Bellezza said...

This was a great book! I remember liking it much more than sequel which somehow didn't seem as fresh. But, Pillars allowed you to really dwell in those Medieval times, and I loved that.

Flowers said...

Thanks for sharing the review of Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett. I found it to be interesting and will order my copy today.

Dreamybee said...

Bellezza-I've been on the fence, and my worry was basically what you just said, that it wouldn't seem as fresh; but I just went and checked out the synopsis, and it sounds like it is a plague book, and I am a sucker for plague books! I might have to read it after all.

Flowers-I hope you enjoy it! Thanks for stopping by.