The Pillars of the Earth

-by Ken Follett

This book was leant to me by a friend who loves historical fiction, with the  praise of being her favourite book ever. Unexpectedly, it is about the building of a cathedral in twelfth century England. Spanning 50 years, it follows a group of key figures who are working towards the building of the cathedral, and their enemies who want to stop them. Politics, religion and ambition intertwine, shaping the outcome of whole towns.

The story is based very much in a few character’s everyday life and thoughts, with the interconnected, overarching politics seeming both an outside force that is slightly set apart from them, and a web they are inherently involved in and creating. Each main character has different areas they focus on based on their interests, having both somewhat mundane and somewhat specialised areas- the master builder will think about his family, relationship and sex, as well as wax lyrical about the beauty and mathematics of building a cathedral; the priest focusses on both the practical aspects of running the priory and building the cathedral, and the spiritual aspects of what he is doing.

At 1070 pages, it is a long read, but not a difficult one. There are diversions into stories that I can’t quite call side stories- each character has the time and space in this novel to have a significant period of there life explored, and while not all that happens directly influences the main story of the building, everything comes together in the end to inexorably lead towards the final building. I often found these diversion, or explorations, to be some of the most interesting bits- they were often about how a relationship formed or changed. The novel could still work without a lot of these explorations and be much shorter, but but the length and depth gives a sense of the slow, steady progress of time, and the holistic nature of life (everything is interconnected).

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