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Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett

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ellieaenor
Scribbler
Location: Hydes, Maryland, USA

Postby ellieaenor » Mon August 17th, 2009, 5:31 am

I found a copy on Amazon.com for $1.00 + shipping. Not sure I want to read it now.

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JoshuaKaitlyn
Reader
Location: Manchester UK

Postby JoshuaKaitlyn » Wed June 30th, 2010, 1:48 pm

Oh! I was thinking of getting both novels...I've seen them going cheap in a second hand book shop....hmm! Might have second thoughts!
Alea Jacta Est

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N. Gemini Sasson
Reader
Location: Ohio
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Postby N. Gemini Sasson » Wed June 30th, 2010, 7:27 pm

"stu1883" wrote:Follett worked on this novel for ten years, researching all about cathedral construction and masons methods - in retrospect it isnt historically accurate in many ways but I do feel it has a quality that many other books seem to lack. It is enjoyable, it does read easily and will get peopleinterested in history because of its descriptive content.


I agree with Stu on this respect. What kept me interested in the book was the detail about the architecture and masonry, not just in the descriptive sense, but in how the story surrounded these factors and shaped the lives of the people in it. Perhaps this is because I've always looked at buildings from centuries past and wondered how they built such beautiful and long-lasting buildings without the use of our modern engines and technology. In a sense, it pays tribute to those men and women who often toiled for decades to see such structures built.

Daffodil
Newbie
Location: Belair, South Australia

Postby Daffodil » Tue August 31st, 2010, 7:20 am

I found it enthralling; couldn't read it quickly enough. And yes, the cathedral building and the politics surrounding that, e.g., acquiring supplies of timber and stone, were interesting and new subjects for me in an historical novel. But agree there is too much gratuitous sex and too detailed - in fact, all Follett's books that I have read feature unnecessary and unlikely (such as in Night Over Water) sex scenes [Jack Higgins never needed them!!].

This book is on Australia's Top 100 list of books to read. However, its sequel, World Without End is not. And for obvious reasons as I plod through it right now. It is equally long, but with lacklustre characters, and being halfway through, hardly anyone to latch on to with any feeling except perhaps Merthin - his bridge-building skills are most interesting. Tom Builder and Prior Anthony were such strong characters in the first book, you get the feeling this later one has been written in more of a hurry.

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Misfit
Bibliomaniac
Location: Seattle, WA

Postby Misfit » Tue August 31st, 2010, 3:17 pm

"Daffodil" wrote:I found it enthralling; couldn't read it quickly enough. And yes, the cathedral building and the politics surrounding that, e.g., acquiring supplies of timber and stone, were interesting and new subjects for me in an historical novel. But agree there is too much gratuitous sex and too detailed - in fact, all Follett's books that I have read feature unnecessary and unlikely (such as in Night Over Water) sex scenes [Jack Higgins never needed them!!].

This book is on Australia's Top 100 list of books to read. However, its sequel, World Without End is not. And for obvious reasons as I plod through it right now. It is equally long, but with lacklustre characters, and being halfway through, hardly anyone to latch on to with any feeling except perhaps Merthin - his bridge-building skills are most interesting. Tom Builder and Prior Anthony were such strong characters in the first book, you get the feeling this later one has been written in more of a hurry.


Thanks daffodil, and welcome to the forum.
At home with a good book and the cat...
...is the only place I want to be

fairmanthefairway
Newbie

Too much to expect

Postby fairmanthefairway » Tue June 28th, 2011, 3:09 am

Reading the Misfit's drubbing of the book, one wonders how high his expectations can get. To say that there are a few elements of the story that couldn't have happened in real world England circa 1100, well, that's the problem with historical fiction lovers. They get too caught up in the history. Of course there were only four knights who dragged Beckket from his church and murdered him. Of course the main character of this fictional story was not there either. But to pick out such small details and dismiss the novel as inaccurate is to misunderstand historical fiction!

The novel does a wonderful job of showing how tenuous life was without a strong central government, and without any rule of law. The novel also does a great job exploring the relative strength of pragmatism and absolutism as solutions to moral quandries.

Yes, the Misfit is correct- there is a little bit of sex in the novel, some of it quite graphic. At times, it reads a bit like a Harlequin romance. Still, the rape scenes help to reinforce the powerlessness of women in particular and of the down trodden in general. Besides, Follett uses rape as a subtle metaphor throughout if you look for it.

There is one particular moment of actual rape of one of the main characters. In the subsequent chapter, one of the cathedral building scenes begins with a stake being driven into the ground. Unless one avoids all Freudian readings on principle, one can hardly avoid seeing the connection between the rape of women and the creation of cathedrals in England. Yes, it sounds strange, but the connection is there.

Rape, as I have argued here, is simply one imposing one's will (to power) on another. The act of building cathedrals was an act of extraordinary will, requiring an almost manic belief in the cause. It sounds terrible to equate such artistry with rape, but the text really seems to imply this.

To the point at hand though, the Misfit has expected too much from a historical fictive world, failing to abide by Coleridge's caveat regarding suspension of disbelief.

To conclude, yes it's long and the reading of it is quite fulfilling, almost like the cathedral raising, and yes, there are some inaccuracies, but if you are up for 900 plus pages of good plot and strong memorable characters who lead you to a crucial moment in actual history, and if you like architecture, etc. or the debate between church and state, and want a narrative to connect it all, this novel is for you!

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Miss Moppet
Bibliophile
Location: North London
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Postby Miss Moppet » Tue June 28th, 2011, 4:00 am

"fairmanthefairway" wrote:Reading the Misfit's drubbing of the book, one wonders how high his expectations can get.


Welcome to the forum. I can't discuss the book in detail as I haven't read it but wanted to point out that Misfit is usually known as "Misfit" not "the Misfit" and she is female. (I don't object to being called "the Moppet" though. :) )

To say that there are a few elements of the story that couldn't have happened in real world England circa 1100, well, that's the problem with historical fiction lovers.


I'm curious as to why, if you feel there is a "problem" with historical fiction lovers, you would want to join a forum intended specifically for them?

To the point at hand though, the Misfit has expected too much from a historical fictive world, failing to abide by Coleridge's caveat regarding suspension of disbelief.


I'm afraid I'm with Misfit, rather than Coleridge, here. I'll suspend my disbelief to a certain extent but too many inaccuracies make me lose interest in the story.

To conclude, yes it's long and the reading of it is quite fulfilling, almost like the cathedral raising, and yes, there are some inaccuracies, but if you are up for 900 plus pages of good plot and strong memorable characters who lead you to a crucial moment in actual history, and if you like architecture, etc. or the debate between church and state, and want a narrative to connect it all, this novel is for you!


That's a strong recommendation and I certainly do intend giving Follett a try some day - although perhaps I may start with his more recent Fall of Giants.

Chris Little
Reader
Location: Going back in Time

From Wall Banger to Floor Wimperer

Postby Chris Little » Sat November 26th, 2011, 3:53 am

I have enjoyed many, but not all of Follett's fiction, some have more karmic force than others. "Pillars" for me is the second best of his HF, after the "Key to Rebecca"

In consideration of Misfit's review, what happens after books impact walls? Is one required to keep wall bangies in hand? Or, do they slide whispering, even whimpering to the floor? With whatever written life remains, are they like puppy poop requiring sanitary disposal? Are their degrees of wall bangness?

rebecca
Compulsive Reader

Postby rebecca » Sun November 27th, 2011, 3:13 am

"Margaret" wrote:Sounds like the film will make Pillars seem like an impeccably researched novel, by contrast. Film-makers who aim their work at a popular audience generally don't care much about keeping the history authentic. In regard to the novel, my impression was that Follett focused on researching the technology of cathedral-building and some of the other specifics of medieval life with considerable success, but did not steep himself in medieval culture, attitudes and belief-systems, so Pillars often seems "off" to me in terms of how the characters think and behave. Because of his background as a thriller-writer, his scenes are full of tension and plot-movement, which makes his novels exciting for people who are reading primarily for plot and story. A lot of people who don't normally read historical fiction find his novels exciting, and I do think they serve as a worthwhile introduction to the Middle Ages for people who might otherwise think of the Middle Ages in the context of boring history classes at school. While I do find the characters' lapses into modern attitudes annoying, I don't think the novels present the Middle Ages so unrealistically as to be seriously misleading, and I have to applaud any novel that gets people who aren't normally interested in history excited about it and interested in learning more.


I am one who enjoyed 'Pillars of the Earth' and the main reason being what Margaret explained so eloquently above, 'Because of his background as a thriller-writer, his scenes are full of tension and plot-movement, which makes his novels exciting for people who are reading primarily for plot and story..."

I also enjoyed reading 'The Other Boleyn Girl' because the plot lines were so gripping but I never once thought I was reading the 'real' Anne Boleyn. I think when it comes to books it really is a case of different horses for different courses...but I will also add that I don't intend buying the sequel to Pillars, it simply doesn't appeal.

Bec :)

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Matt Phillips
Reader

Postby Matt Phillips » Tue January 17th, 2012, 11:08 pm

I didn't read Pillars, but saw the miniseries. I'm now reading World Without End, and it seems a lot of the criticisms of (and plaudits for) Pillars apply to it as well. In World, Follett seems to use the Black Death as a cover for many of the characters' historically implausible behavior, arguing that the rules of society and the Church fell by the wayside amid the chaos and panic of an unseen plague slaughtering huge portions of the population.

I know very little about the 14th century, but it seems the opposite might have been more likely: Wouldn't medieval Europeans have mostly seen the plague as a punishment from God, which would make them want to win back God's favor and behave with more devotion, stricter adherence to Church rules, and less tolerance of deviations from social and religious norms?

I mean, obviously there were any number of examples of indiscretions by priests, monks, nuns, etc., throughout history, including the Middle Ages. So it's not as if what he portrays is impossible, as far as I know. But it does often stretch plausibility.

So between this and the reviews of Pillars, it seems Follett focused a lot of his research efforts on the tangible elements of the medieval world - architecture, commerce, warfare - and little on what really made individuals tick at that time, what really dwelled in their hearts and minds. Also, the characters' dialogue and inner monologue sound too modern - words like "sexy" and terms like "cramp his style" creep in. Perhaps more extensive use of primary sources and social histories in his research might have addressed some of these problems. I'd be curious to see how Fall of Giants measures up.

Putting all that aside, World is a really fun read that's hard to put down. He is a master of building tension and continually adding frequent new tidbits of intrigue that make you want to see what's going to happen next. And in some areas of the historical subject matter, he does seem to paint a picture that largely rings true, although - again - I'm no expert. He does not pull punches in showing the brutality of late medieval warfare (no gallant mythical knights in shining armor here) and illustrates England's growing integration into European trade networks, particularly textiles.

If you can overlook the characters' overly modern mindsets, behavior, and manner of speaking and thinking, World is definitely entertaining: a fast-paced, tension-filled novel with an epic sweep. I'd recommend it ... unless the historical issues would prevent you from suspending disbelief for the full 1,000 pages! A novel that size might really make a dent in your wall.


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