This blog is now retired. My new site is at: Predictably Irrational.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Book Review: The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett


I will not be able to come up with the words to describe my feelings for this book...but a few that I can think of: incredible, extraordinary, beautiful, heartbreaking, horrific, tragic, heroic, amazing, poetic.

Reading this book -- which is not a book I would have ever picked up on my own volition -- made me appreciate the skill to read and comprehend. It was one of the greatest privileges to read and enter this world: medieval England. It was even more great to get to know the people in this book, who I will miss immensely and will cherish, as I cherished the characters from Jane Eyre.

The book is described as a novel about cathedral building. The author himself alludes to that as well. I found this book, however, so much more than cathedral building: the story revolved around the building of a cathedral. However, for me, the story is about the characters, many of who were written in first person account, so that we could know each one inside-and-out.

I learned details of the way they thought, how things appeared to them, and the experiences that they encountered. And there are many experiences that were so difficult to read. The cruelty of William Hamleigh -- who is one of the characters in which we get to know from first-person account -- was enraging and sickening.

Other people we get to know personally: Tom the Builder, Jack, Aliena, Prior Philip and Ellen. There are so many more people that intertwine but these are the ones I really got to know.

What is fascinating about this book is that the women characters are strong women. Aliena, the young 'princess', who's father gets ousted as the Earl and she strives to survive, getting knocked down to rock bottom while caring for her younger brother.

Agnes, Tom the Builder's first wife, is a stout woman who follows her man as he lives out his dream to build a cathedral. I grieved for Agnes when she died and because Follett is beyond exceptional in his writing, I think of Agnes throughout the book, remembering her...still grieving her death.

Ellen, mother to Jack and second wife to Tom the Builder. Exceptionally strong, wild, strange. She is considered a witch to the people during these times...and she uses it to her advantage. We aren't given a straight answer to whether she really *is* a witch but I savored the idea because she is one of the 'good guys' and freaked the bad guys out with her curses.

Lady Regan Hamleigh, William Hamleigh's mother, is yet another strong woman but evil. She is smarter than her dunce husband, Lord Percy, and the equally dunce son, William. She steers the manipulations that these men, along with other corrupt men, to gain power.

Prior Philip, the supposed 'hero' of the book (there are so many), is a devout man of god. He is introduced to us as a humble prior of a very small, but successful, priory in the forest. But over time, he moves into other territories...all in the name of god. But he finds, even though he is doing god's work -- and he truly believes he is -- he has to 'play the games'...the politics...the corrupt get things done for god.

And all this takes place during war time and the similarities of the effects of war during the medieval times to this day and age are eerie and sad. And although it is fictional, Follett's book was published in 1989, well before any of us would think we would be at war with anyone.

I memorized the page number for this passage. It was when the town of Kingsbridge had to put up a fence around its township, to prevent an attack (yet another) from the brutal William Hamleigh. Jack, Ellen's son who becomes the master builder for the cathedral in Kingsbridge, converses with Prior Philip -- remember, a man of peace but knows the brutality of William Hamleigh -- about how Kingsbridge will forever be a fortified town...and Prior Philip contends, at least until Jesus comes again. And here is how Jack replies:

"You never know," Jack said speculatively. "There may come a time when savages like William Hamleigh aren't in power; when the laws protect the ordinary people instead of enslaving them; when the king makes peace instead of war. Think of that -- a time when towns in England don't need walls!"

Except for the last line, it just rang all too real for the time I live in now.

And by the way, I don't want a wall...except to keep men like dubya and cheney out.

I feel fortunate to have been exposed to this book. I thank book club for that -- especially Kerry, who had managed to influence a few majority to read this tome: 973 pages long. We'll discuss it next month.

And I'm afraid that nothing I read now, meaning immediately after this book, can stand up to this.

It's been an awesome year of reading for me. To have three of the most amazing books I have ever read, ever, in less than a year! Jane Eyre, The Curious Incident of the Dog In the Night-Time and now this. I am extremely lucky.

And I want more.

1 comment:

  1. I finally finished rereading the book tonight! I didn't want to take a look at your review until I finished. I'm glad that you enjoyed it! I'm looking forward to talking about it at book club next I just have to start and finish Sedaris.