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A Voice in the Wilderness

As nightfall does not come at once, neither does oppression. In both instances, there's a twilight where everything remains seemingly unchanged, and it is in such twilight that we must be aware of change in the air, however slight, lest we become unwitting victims of the darkness. -- William O. Douglas

Thursday, March 27, 2008

The Pillars of the Earth - Ken Follett

I have never read any of Ken Follett's books but I decided to give this one a try. It is my understanding that this genre of book is not typical of the spy thriller writer. This is a historical novel with multiple characters and several plots.

The Pillars of the Earth is set in the early 1100's and spans around fifty years. It centers around a Cathedral constructed in the fictional town of Kingsbridge England. Some of the major characters include Phillip, Prior of the Kingsbridge Monastery, Tom Builder and his step-son Jack Sherburg who are the Master-Builders that oversee the Cathedral's construction over nearly five decades. The story is filled with intrigue, violence, ambition, religiosity, rape, pillaging and even token sex.

I liked the book however, some of the tempocentric references transferred to the twelvth century don't seem to carry over convincingly - at least for me anyway. The gratuitous sex descriptions seemed awkward, somewhat brutish and even pornographic. I suppose they weren't altogether repulsive taken as a whole - although I found the rape descriptions to be particularly disturbing.

Follett was trained as a journalist and it showed up by the way this entire book was painstakingly written. However, its end seemed anticlimactic as the author wrapped up the loose ends kind of the way he wrote about sex; big build-up, short fuse and BAM!

Considering how much detail and effort was put into developing the story and its characters
, the end seemed rushed, tidy and contrived. It lacked the same continuity with the tapestry woven through out the story. I understand the book was long nearly 1000 pages. nevertheless, this epic deserved a more detailed end to finish off the body of work so meticulously put together. I found myself frustrated with the disappointingly clunky end.

Nevertheless, I did find the book intriguing enough that I made time for the book - so much so that I read it in four days. I found myself thinking about the characters during the day and eagerly looked forward to reading what was happening to them as the story progressed. Having finished the book, I've found myself missing the characters.

I particularly enjoyed the story because of the extensive research associated with middle-ages cathedral construction. Additionally, the detailed descriptions of medieval culture and lifestyle were as entertaining as they were enlightening.

Ken Follett thoroughly researched his material - I read he took nearly ten years to develop the story. Perhaps that explains why he wrapped up the story in less than 100 pages. Ten years is a long time to invest into writing a book - maybe he just got tired of it when he reached the end.

Nearly 15 years have passed since Follett wrote "The Pillars of the Earth" and he has recently completed another book of the same genre, centering around 14th Century at Kingsbridge Cathedral. I 'm looking forward to reading "World Without End" soon.


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