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.
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.