Kay's Reviews > The Pillars of the Earth

The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett
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Nov 26, 2014

it was amazing
bookshelves: smilingdamnedvillain, epic, formidable-women, heroes-flawed-n-great, historical, kings-queens-n-fools, war-and-conflict
Recommended for: lovers of a good story
Read from June 11 to November 21, 2011 — I own a copy , read count: 1.5

How does one review a book that one cannot even describe?

So many times after gushing about how good Pillars was, people ask me, What’s it about?

And I, swirling in the happy aftermath of a mind so blown away that it’s still traveling near the speed of light, struggle to gather what’s left of analytical thinking and dumbly blurt, “Um, it’s about building this cathedral…”



Way to not to sell a book.

I still have trouble really describing Pillars in a way that satisfies. Because while it is about building a cathedral, it’s about so much more. It’s about love, hate, sacrifice, duty, honor, sorrow, ambition, dreams… It’s about cold, hard life in the Middle Ages during decades of civil unrest where both good and bad people, downtrodden and as hungry as they are, still dream and compete and seek a sense of accomplishment in their lives.

People like you and me, just some centuries and a culture apart.

And like life, not everything is pleasant.

There are many ups and downs in the novel, so many that you learn to brace yourself for the worst when someone emerges victorious because you know that there will be payback. The characters go through a lot of hardships, and it’s pretty darn painful to read. The devastation that Prior Phillip felt when some part of his cathedral project was foiled is just as heartbreaking as the physical violation of Aliena’s body.

On the flip side, when the characters felt joy, it was extremely acute. When Tom finally landed a job, I breathed a sigh of relief. When Aliena got revenge on the priest who was supposed to “take care” of her father’s money, I felt a ruthless surge of satisfaction. It’s like I’m with these characters, that they are real and I am next to them. Their life is not a bucket full of cotton candy. It’s bitter, vile, and hard; but it’s also sweet, gentle, and satisfying in turn.

Pillars does dramatize the lives of these characters by placing them in a zero sum system; when one gains, the other has to lose. What resulted was an intricate web between the characters, some more attached to one than the other. Each move that one character made had a profound effect on the other. While this may have been contrived for some, I found it fascinating to follow these lives and see how much they crisscross and tangle. The concept that every action has consequences is something that is definitely fleshed out in Pillars, which I think is a life lesson that not many people dwell on.

Despite their differences, what every character had in common was that the thread of their lives all intersect at the focal point of this one cathedral. Every significant action in the novel is somehow directly or indirectly connected to the construction of this cathedral.

And my, what a construction project it is to build a cathedral! Ken Follett really studied up on this subject and did a fantastic job depicting the grandeur and openness of cathedrals. Cathedrals really are complicated works of architecture. Even the darker, more foreboding ones of the early middle ages were incredibly expensive and a huge pain to build. The type of “open air” cathedral with flying buttresses and colored glass that so amazed Jack is really a sight to behold, even in modern standards, with their intricacy and careful architectural balancing. Some of Follett’s best writing emerges when he describes the smooth arches, the interior of the nave, the structure of the transepts, and the light streaming in through elongated windows that brightened darkened corners, an innovation thought to be structurally impossible in a stone building.

The book does have its faults. Follett’s writing was not all that consistent. It was jarring to read Follett’s grandiose descriptions of cathedrals and then, on the next page, read about William Hamleigh fantasizing about violating women. The violence was graphic, almost to the point of being gratuitous, but then again everything about Follett's writing was graphic. I personally take no issue with graphic violence, but people who do should take note that the prose of this novel is in-your-face blunt.

My overall impression of the novel is that it is a tour de force of storytelling; a story that weaves together the lives of enemies and friends who are not all completely evil or good, who have their own dreams and ambitions, and who are willing to do dirty yet necessary things to achieve their ends. Some are more good than others, some are almost saintly, and others are steaming piles of doo. But somehow, amazingly, they are all parties in the construction of this one cathedral, and the cathedral connects them in both death and life.

Faults aside, the sheer force of the story compelled me to give this five stars. It’s not a perfect novel, and the novel doesn't showcase perfect writing. But it’s a really good story, something so grand and epic that it can’t be adequately captured in just a few sentences.

FIVE SHINY GOLD STARS AND HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!
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Reading Progress

11/07 page 30
3.0% "I'd read about 2/3 of the book years ago before I put it down. Trying again, this time on a mix of audiobook and paperback because it was a drag carrying a 900-page novel to the gym with me."
11/07 page 103
11.0% "Agh the birth scene towards the beginning made me cringe, even the second time around."
11/17 page 590
60.0% "The Pillars of the Earth: Too much emotional rollercoastering. Stop messing with my feelings so much, Mr. Follett."
01/29 marked as: read
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Comments (showing 1-23 of 23) (23 new)

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message 1: by Jeffrey (new)

Jeffrey Keeten Compelling review. Great Job.


Stephen Great review, Kay. I loved this book as well.


message 3: by Kay (new) - rated it 5 stars

Kay Thank you, Jeffrey. I'm glad you thought so!


message 4: by Kay (new) - rated it 5 stars

Kay Stephen wrote: "Great review, Kay. I loved this book as well."

Thank you, Stephen. This one was definitely a winner.


Stephen I thought the second one was just as good, but I would recommend taking some time before you start it. The stories and structure are so similar that it can feel like deja vu unless you space out the books.


message 6: by Ian (new) - rated it 3 stars

Ian I actually enjoyed the second book more and I agree with Stephen you shouldn't read them too close together; the themes and stories are very similar and and the reader might have trouble separating out what is what.


message 7: by Kay (new) - rated it 5 stars

Kay Stephen and Ian, thanks for the tip. I will definitely take some time off since it took a while for me to even revisit and write this review! It's so much harder to write reviews for books you loved than those you didn't.


message 8: by Kay (new) - rated it 5 stars

Kay Cortney wrote: "I've had this on my TBR list for some time now. I plan to do a buddy read in February."

I hope you like the book, Cortney. It's always interesting to see what fellow Goodreaders have to say.


message 9: by Dan's (new) - added it

Dan's Obsessions Heey there Kay I am so glad to see that U 've reviewd this one, perhaps U could let me know if this is the one that turned oust as a 2-part mini series in BBC, just recently? I wastched the last part till the end in my country an' was simply astonished. I blv I am going to try to aquire this book in the future


message 10: by Kay (new) - rated it 5 stars

Kay Dan's wrote: "Heey there Kay I am so glad to see that U 've reviewd this one, perhaps U could let me know if this is the one that turned oust as a 2-part mini series in BBC, just recently? I wastched the last p..."

Hi Dan, thanks for your comment! I think this book is what the BBC series is based on. I haven't seen the mini-series myself so I can't vouch for the accuracy of how the show portrayed the book. But I would highly recommend you reading the book. It's a fantastic story. Takes some time to get through, but well worth it.


message 11: by Dan's (new) - added it

Dan's Obsessions Well U made that review on december and I guess U had lots of time with vacations comming on. I'll see if I can get some time off to make the best of it.
But the story was quite spectacular on the finishing "verdict" the switch of the accusations in front of the gallows. Loved the dialogues and the way most of their actions intersect to a final stand off!

What I did wonder thought is if this book leaves any "brathin place" for the second book to catch up!!! If the bishop dies and all the rest of their enemies fade away what then... ( talking about my recollections from the ending of the mini series)


message 12: by Kay (new) - rated it 5 stars

Kay Dan's wrote: "Well U made that review on december and I guess U had lots of time with vacations comming on. I'll see if I can get some time off to make the best of it.
But the story was quite spectacular on th..."


Hm, I haven't read the second book yet, but I think that one is set a century or two after the happenings in the second book. That is, none of the main characters of Pillars appear again. But I think the implications of what the characters in Pillars have achieved resounds in the second book, so the second book doesn't take place in a completely unfamiliar setting.


Diana Wow! I am blown away from your review. Great review. I felt the same as you except you describe better than me. All I got to say is that I really enjoyed this book so much that I am still thinking about. I finished it three days ago and I miss reading it Now time to find a new book to read.


message 14: by Kay (new) - rated it 5 stars

Kay Diana wrote: "Wow! I am blown away from your review. Great review. I felt the same as you except you describe better than me. All I got to say is that I really enjoyed this book so much that I am still thinking ..."

Thanks so much, Diana! I enjoyed this book immensely as well, and still think back on it. The characters were all so human and real.

If you enjoyed Follett's writing style, I recommend you check out the sequel, World Without End. The story structure and writing, I hear, are very similar to Pillars.


Diana That book is definitely on my list. I miss reading about Jack and Aliena, especially Jack. Jack was like the boyfriend I always wanted when I was a young lady at 18:) They felt so human to me. Once again thanks for the review.


message 16: by Kay (new) - rated it 5 stars

Kay Diana wrote: "That book is definitely on my list. I miss reading about Jack and Aliena, especially Jack. Jack was like the boyfriend I always wanted when I was a young lady at 18:) They felt so human to me. Once..."

I adored Jack. He definitely had his faults, but I was glad to see that he and Aliena were happy by the end.


Amanda Finally! Someone who can explain how much I loved this book! Thank you thank you thank you. I've been trying to explain it to my mom to convince her to read it, instead I just read the review to her.


message 18: by Kay (new) - rated it 5 stars

Kay Amanda wrote: "Finally! Someone who can explain how much I loved this book! Thank you thank you thank you. I've been trying to explain it to my mom to convince her to read it, instead I just read the review to her."

Thanks so much for the kind comment, Amanda. I hope you were able to convince your mother to give Pillars a shot!


Carmen Wow! Are you a writer yourself, Kay? If not, you should be! Your review of the book was really wonderful to read. It describes the core of the book so well and all without spoilers, which I really hate in book reviews!
Thank you for putting your thoughts to paper. You said exactly what I felt after reading Pillars, but in a much better way than I ever could have!


message 20: by Kay (new) - rated it 5 stars

Kay Thanks for your note, Carmen. I am very flattered! I am not a writer professionally, but I do write for personal enjoyment. I'm so glad you liked my review. Pillars is such a sprawling epic that I had not just a little trouble reviewing it. Thanks again for your kind comment!


Carelen Camero This review pretty much encompassed all of my feelings about this book, which is one of my favorites I've ever read.


message 22: by Brandy (new)

Brandy Fantastic review for a fantastic novel! I just read it this past December, followed by the sequel World Without End. I found it not as riveting as the first, but great nonetheless. Has anyone else read it?


Stacy Stone Great review!


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