Pillars of the Earth (Follett) - Book Reviews

Book Reviews 
For roughly 500 pages, half the book, cathedrals and rapine are enough. Mr. Follett's male characters are chess pieces, clearly labeled Good Guy and Bad Guy. There is a saintly churchman and a bad one; the saint plays politics just as much as the sinner, but we know which one is the villain because he wears black. Mr. Follett's female characters are virtually indistinguishable from one another, plucky types whom men must nonetheless rescue from any real danger.... Like a cathedral built too high, Mr. Follett's story develops cracks, and chunks of it fall into the crypt. The plot, which theoretically centers on the building of a cathedral, spills off into too many different directions, including a whirlwind tour of Europe and a completely obvious mystery. The characters never grow, and without some deepening emotional discovery, the world of the novel becomes trite, the incidentsThe vigor and intensity of the first half of the book may bring The Pillars of the Earth popular success. But half a book isn't good enough, especially at these prices. Repetitious.
Cecilla Holland - New York Times

With this book, Follett risks all and comes out a clear winner, escaping the narrow genre of suspense thrillers to take credit for a historical novel of gripping readability, authentic atmosphere and detail and memorable characterization. Set in 12th-century England, the narrative concerns the building of a cathedral in the fictional town of Kingsbridge. The ambitions of three men merge, conflict and collide through four decades during which social and political upheaval and the internal politics of the church affect the progress of the cathedral and the fortunes of the protagonists. The insightful portrayals of an idealistic master builder, a pious, dogmatic but compassionate prior and an unscrupulous, ruthless bishop are balanced by those of a trio of independent, resourceful women (one of them quite loathesome) who can stand on their own as memorable characters in any genre. Beginning with a mystery that casts its shadow on ensuing events, the narrative is a seesaw of tension in which circumstances change with shocking but true-to-life unpredictability. Follett's impeccable pacing builds suspense in a balanced narrative that offers action, intrigue, violence and passion as well as the step-by-step description of an edifice rising in slow stages, its progress tied to the vicissitudes of fortune and the permutations of evolving architectural style. Follett's depiction of the precarious balance of power between monarchy and religion in the Middle Ages, and of the effects of social upheavals and the forces of nature (storms, famines) on political events; his ability to convey the fine points of architecture so that the cathedral becomes clearly visualized in the reader's mind; and above all, his portrayals of the enduring human emotions of ambition, greed, bravery, dedication, revenge and love, result in a highly engrossing narrative. Manipulating a complex plot in which the characters interact against a broad canvas of medieval life, Follett has written a novel that entertains, instructs and satisfies on a grand scale.
Publishers Weekly

A radical departure from Follett's novels of international suspense and intrigue, this chronicles the vicissitudes of a prior, his master builder, and their community as they struggle to build a cathedral and protect themselves during the tumultuous 12th century, when the empress Maud and Stephen are fighting for the crown of England after the death of Henry I. The plot is less tightly controlled than those in Follett's contemporary works, and despite the wealth of historical detail, especially concerning architecture and construction, much of the language as well as the psychology of the characters and their relationships remains firmly rooted in the 20th century. This will appeal more to lovers of exciting adventure stories than true devotees of historical fiction. Literary Guild dual main selection. —Cynthia Johnson Whealler, Cary Memorial Lib., Lexington, Mass.
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