Tuesday, December 30, 2008
Pillars of the Earth
I hated this book. Let's just get that out of the way so there is no confusion later on.
Ken Follett describes a gloomy, dismal, nearly barbaric society whose citizens' greatest concerns seem to be their egos and their lust for power and control. He uses the building of the great European cathedrals as the impetus for his story; the magnificent structures were made possible through trickery, lies, greed, criminal acts and selfish ambition. Forget about the Glory of God...that's just history's cover story. But Follett's cathedral in Pillars of the Earth serves as much purpose as the hospital in the soap opera General Hospital. He focused much more on the personal drama, romance, and rivalry of his weak characters. This was historical fiction a la Daytime television.
The story didn't even feel historical. Follett tried. He mentioned eating with a knife almost as frequently as the tunics his characters wore (Setting it apart from modern day. We no longer wear tunics, you know). But everything felt too modern - their speech, their attitudes, even their relationships. I read the mammoth 1,000 page story quickly but I can just as easily get sucked into Guiding Light. The plots are interesting enough...just mind-numbing and unlikely. For example, the Alfred-Aliena-Jack love triangle had my interest but then the high drama of Aliena's secret pregnancy followed by her truly unbelievable delivery (during the same time the ceiling of the cathedral fell....underneath the stone rubble....really?) along side Jack's odyssey was just too much. And could someone please just get kill William Hamleigh before he rapes someone else? (They don't. The reader is required to experience one too many grotesque acts by an inhumane man who supposedly fears hell. Once was MORE than enough, Ken. We get it. He's baaaaaad).
Even if there is some historical truth to the background story - the difficulty in building a cathedral (oh yeah..remember that?), it is overshadowed by all the non-historical melodrama. I don't think Follett did that period of history any favors by making it all seem so salacious.
Here Be Dragons does a much better job of storytelling the tumultuous middle ages. Read it if you want to experience the pettiness of power. I'd even recommend Philippa Gregory's novels over this. It was about 900 pages too long.