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Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Pillars of the Earth, by Ken Follett, 1989 * * * *

Until this novel was published, Ken Follett had previously been known for writing in the thriller genre. Pillars of the Earth became Follett's best-selling work. Set in 12th-century England, the narrative concerns the building of a cathedral in the fictional town of Kingsbridge. The ambitions of three men merge, conflict and collide through 40 years of social and political upheaval as internal church politics affect the progress of the cathedral and the fortunes of the protagonists. Follett has written a novel that entertains, instructs and satisfies on a grand scale. I've never been a fan of Follett, and picked this book up with some misgivings but found it a wonderfully satisfying read. Its sweep, characterization, tensions, and love of its subject are riveting. The power of the book is in the magnificent characters, both main and supporting, whose strengths and weaknesses make them appear real. The author manages to write of an age of religious devotion without tumbling into two common pitfalls - making fun of medieval Christian faith, or uncritically adopting it. This was a wonderfully satisfying novel that I could not put down.

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