Why have I never discovered this book before? When I mentioned to friends I was reading it I was told ‘oh yes, it’s fantastic’. And fantastic it is. The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett holds up a mirror to modern times. It is a historical thriller about the building of a twelfth century cathedral. The politics, governmental and religious, civil war, families torn asunder, romance, loss, courage and hope. It left me with a yearning to walk around a cathedral and study its architecture, better to understand the feat accomplished at Kingsbridge.
The Pillars of the Earth tells the story of stonemason Tom Builder and his family, who in 1135 are on the verge of starvation. When they meet Philip, prior of Kingsbridge, so begins a relationship which lasts all their lives. Philip is a pragmatic monk. He knows his poor town must find a way to survive and decides to build a cathedral. Tom becomes his master builder. But there are enemies who want to thwart this ambition, greedy, ruthless men who change political sides with will, who pillage and rape, who store riches while their peasants starve. The differences are not just political and royal, they are between brothers too.
This is a long novel and for not one moment did that matter. If you like novels that create a world for you to lose yourself in, then this will suit you. This is the medieval world; when the crown is disputed by King Stephen and Maud, when a father abandons a baby because he cannot feed it, when outlaws live wild in the forests, when the wealthy and titled can rape and steal and get away with it. Through this morally thin time, there are beacons of light. Prior Philip is quiet, gentle and Machiavellian. Determined not to be beaten by bullies, that his town and citizens shall not lose their livelihoods, he motivates his villagers so they have the belief to stand up for their rights.
Don’t be put off because this book is about a cathedral. The cathedral is the glue that holds the community of Kingsbridge together, it gives the book its narrative drive. Ken Follett packs in so much historical detail and it is all relevant to the plot; despite its 1104 pages, this is a quick read. Highly recommended.
This is the first of the Kingsbridge trilogy, next is World Without End.
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And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
THE PILLARS OF THE EARTH by @KMFollett #books https://wp.me/p5gEM4-3BF via @SandraDanby