Ken Follett The Pillars of the Earth Review

I started reading Ken Follett’s ‘The Pillars of the Earth’ back in August and I’ve just now finished it.  Yes, I know, it took me ages to make my way through it.  I wasn’t immediately gripped by this one.  The story didn’t take off for some time and I felt like quite a lot could have been cut from this long novel.  But about half way through, I became pretty addicted to the storyline and the myriad of characters Follett had included.  I found myself sneaking bits of time to read and by the end I was glad I’d stuck to it and finished reading.  Here’s why…

I read this book with a critical eye.  Meaning, when I’m not immediately gripped by elegant writing and fast moving plot I find myself critiquing and thinking about how the book could have been made better.  Pillars of the Earth was a perfect study for the wanna be author like myself because not only was I recognizing room for improvement but I was also taking in all the good things about the book too.  And yes, there were some good things.

What I didn’t like –

Um…there were some very graphic sex scenes.  Not that I’m uncomfortable reading that type of material, but in this case, they came off sounding like some 15 year old’s fantasies.  When the words “hot body” are found in a historical fiction…something  just ain’t right.  Know what I mean?

Along those lines – there were some pretty graphic rape scenes.  I’d have appreciated a little less detail there…they still would have been horrific and served the story.

There were just too many pages that didn’t move the story along – yes describing the architecture was important but come on….too much of that is just boring.

Typos?  There is no excuse for typos in something that likely went through 3 editors before making it onto bookstore shelves.  In fact, many of the failures of this book can likely be put to poor editing rather than poor writing…although there was a great deal of that as well.

What I did like –

The characters, as simple and one sided as they often were, came through with vigor and life.  I had a beautiful sense of who they were as people.

The good vs evil theme was portrayed with so many levels.  Each instance fed and supported the next until it flowed through each and every scene, cementing the message in any readers mind.

The general vastness of the story.  This book covered generations of characters and decades of time.  The skill with which this was achieved was hard to miss.

Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett
Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett

Bottom Line –

For me, the most interesting thing about Pillars of the Earth (besides the story) was how I could see the author’s technique maturing over the course of the book.  Follett started out like a clumsy foal and finished an accomplished ‘lock.’   The book is worth reading for that reason alone…the epic story is just a bonus to the lesson in novel writing I received with this one.  Don’t buy this book to be treated with lovely prose…you’ll be disappointed.  But do buy it because you want to view the journey and making of an author.

I’ve since started reading The Gathering by Anne Enright
and it appears to be very promising.



  1. I read that a few years ago while travelling (loooonggg books were a boon to me then) and felt kind of the same way. I had to really TRY to read it for the first third or so, which was not my experience with his other books and it was pretty obvious it was one of his first works. But I remember enjoying the first half or so.

    • haha, yes! That’s exactly the right phrase – had to try to read it. Most books don’t require so much determination from their readers 🙂 It’s interesting to hear you say his other books were better…might have to have a look at something else from Follett.

  2. Regarding typos, a manuscript goes through so many hands that it’s hard to pin the blame on any one person. The manuscript tends to go back and forth between the editor and the author for sometime before it gets sent to the typesetter. When it’s sent to the typesetter, galleys are printed up then sent to the author. Galleys are the last stage before a book goes to print. They are the book’s pages actually printed, but unbound. At this point, it is the AUTHOR’S responsibility to find and correct any glaring errors.

    That said, I’ve heard stories of authors who’ve been fastidious about making corrections only to have stubborn typesetters put the errors back in. Typesetters should do only typesetting, not editing, but that’s publishing for you.

    One thing I find annoying, and I’ve seen some wildly popular writers do this, is when a character is shown to say something like, “I would of done it if I could of.” Uh, excuse me? Would of? Could of? Yes, I know that there are people who pronounce these words like that, but how the hell else do you say those contractions? I mean, seriously!

    Neil Gaiman has done this, Janet Evanovich has done this, and even John Steinbeck did it. Meh. They may see it as a form of “characterization,” but I see it as silliness.

    • Characterization is one thing but making readers trip up on purpose is just not right! Although, Gaiman can pretty much get away with anything and I’ll still forgive him – his books always take me in.

      And I don’t care how many people a book goes through – in this day and age, typos should be obliterated!! (now, don’t go looking for them on my blog…I’m sure there are plenty. Me? Hypocritical? Nooooooooo..) Ha!

  3. Of course, the opposite problem is when you have an author who insists that certain errors be retained in their manuscript, and this is because they’re ignorant. John Grisham is my favourite author to pick on about this. The opening lines to his book, KING OF TORTS, contains such glaring errors that it should forever be held up as a prime example of what not to do.

    I don’t recall if you remember my picking on this book back in our days at FictionAddiction, Heddy, but I’ll never forget when a friend recommended the book to me, praising it up and down, saying that the writing was, “Smooth. Real smooth.” I picked it up at the bookstore, read the first paragraph, and put it down. I read “The shots that fired the bullets,” and I honestly couldn’t read any farther. Six words and the book had failed for me. By the end of the first paragraph, I was laughing at what was meant to be the unfortunate death of a person.

    This, of course, is the result of the writing of a lawyer, and lawyers are hardly wordsmiths.

    • Oh FictionAddiction! That’s right – I DO remember you picking on Grisham then! You know, I bet you’re my longest standing ‘net’ friend. That was what? Five years ago? More?

      Thanks so much for coming by Gary, I’ve missed you while you were selfishly writing a BOOK. 😀

      so….um…when do I get to read it eh?


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