THE PILLARS OF THE EARTH by Ken Follett

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I purchased The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett as recommended by two men in the Veteran’s writing workshop I led. It is not the usual type of historical fiction I read, but they said it was good and they recommended it as instructive for setting up detailed scenes as well as working in historical facts.

Compared to other novels I usually read, I consider The Pillars of the Earth an epic, taking place from 1123 through 1174 in England over 983 pages. I did think it was very well written; it drew me in and was full of romance, suspense, and action as well as historical detail. As the group members indicated, the author did an excellent job of creating twelfth century England; I easily imagined the landscape, towns, and different places. I also enjoyed learning about the evolution of church and cathedral architecture.

The story is told from the point of view of several characters and it’s not clear until well into the book that the main characters are Aliena and Jack. The length of the book allowed me to get to know all of the characters intimately as well as care for them and want to find out what happened to them. However, it also took me a long time to really get into the story, though obviously it was interesting enough and grabbed me enough to motivate me to keep reading. I generally enjoy stories told from just one character’s point of view and I’ve been known to skip sections told from a character’s point-of-view about which I don’t care, but I found myself caring about all of the characters enough in this book to read all of the sections.

Though this isn’t the type of book I normally read, I am glad I did. It was a fascinating tale about characters I came to know and care about. And I did learn one way to weave historical facts through a story. It took me over two months to read this book, partly because of the length and partly because it took me some time to get hooked enough to keep going back to it, so, on a can’t-put-it-down-scale of one for I couldn’t even finish it to ten for I was up until the wee morning hours, I give the first half to two-thirds a six and the last half to one-third a seven and a half.

Source: Follett, Ken. (1989). The Pillars of the Earth. Signet: New York City.

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