Title: The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett
How it was obtained: I picked it up for a quarter at the library.
Time spent on the "to read" shelf: 2 years.
Days spent reading it: 9 days.
Why I read it: I think my dad first recommended this book years and years ago. And while Oprah's recommendation created a buzz around this book, I don't read books because Oprah says so. I was interested in the epic scale of the building of a cathedral in medieval Britain.
Brief review: Here is an epic book about life, death, struggles, victory, revenge, and love. The core of the story revolves around the building of a new cathedral in Kingsbridge, England. Follett has created wonderful characters and has a compelling plot. There are many ups and downs throughout the novel for our protagonists, but the general direction is always up for the heroes. While Follett definitely gives the characters adversity, the reader always has a suspicion that the good guys will overcome. Progress will always be made. But even this predictability is alright because the depth of the characters changes with each new trial.
At first I thought I loved this book. But as I got towards the end, I realized that I am fundamentally at odds with a number of Follett's main ideas. I realize that the church in this time period was messed up. But in this book, one gets the idea that the church then (and today by inference) was only interested in the power it could gain for itself. True spirituality is completely missing from most of the Christian characters. The exception happens to be one of the main characters. Prior Philip is always written in a positive, if slightly naïve, light. We come to love Prior Philip, and I think perhaps Follett did too, which is why Philip stays pure, even in the midst of the rest of a corrupt system.
My other problem with this book is Follett's depiction of love. He seems very antagonistic to how the church has defined marriage. Marriage is only a technicality that the church enforces, in his view. In fact, Follett points out the church's "hypocrisy" about love multiple times stating that the monks could enforce marriages, but have no idea what true love was because they themselves could not marry. The truth is Follett's idea of love is often superficial. His characters are attracted to each other, have sex, and are in love. Little else is said about their "loving" relationship. His characters do sacrifice for love's sake, but are always regretting or whining about that sacrifice. I could go on, but I won't.
My last word on this book is this: I would have highly recommended this book to anyone until I started hitting the numerous adult situations that are in this book. There is a lot of sex going on in this book, and Follett sometimes goes out of his way to describe what is going on to the finest detail. Completely unnecessary and unwanted, but it ties into his view of what love and marriage are.
Even with that, The Pillars of the Earth is an epic book. It is a compelling historical novel that is difficult to put down. I would recommend it with the above caveats about its content and themes.
Favorite quote: In both cases, weakness and scruples had defeated strength and ruthlessness.
Stars: 4 out of 5.Final Word: Grandiose.