Saturday, November 27, 2010

The Pillars of the Earth


I'm not a big fan of fictional books except for classics by Tolstoy, Woolf, Steinback etc. Somehow, I had a big urge to pick up this one, what more with many recommendations by my friends who had either read it or watched the TV series based on the book. Besides, how wrong can you get with a book which had been endorsed by the Big O - Oprah Winfrey?

In a nut shell, The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett tells the story of the building of a great cathedral in a quite village called Kingsbridge during the 12th century. However, you won't be reading anything about its construction until you've flipped almost 300 pages. The author takes his time to give a beautiful outlay and introduction of the setting and the main characters involved before getting down to the real business.

The next 700 pages unfolds the chronicles underlaying as the cathedral takes its shape - monarch rivalry, ecclesiastical politics, unswerving ambition, family ties as well as betrayal, manipulation, revenge, love, sex and the question of honor. As a man who claims he doesn't believe in God, it comes to no surprise that Ken Follett chose to take the less traveled path by telling the story about Christendom in a different perspective - where priests are as mischievous as laymen.

The antagonist was Bishop Waleran of Shiring, who sees his position as God's will to achieve everything he desires and strongly believe the end justifies the means. He is joined by the Earl of Shiring and the Earl's mother, Countess Regan in plotting evil plans, mostly against the priory of Kingsbridge who is seen as the tumbling block for him to be the Archbishop of Canterbury - the most prestigious title for a man of God in England and not to mention, the richest and most important archbishopric.

Of course there are the love story between Jack, the gifted young boy who lives in the forest with his allegedly-witch mother and Aliena, the former daughter of the ousted Earl Bartholomew - both are the hero and heroine of this story. The book is divided into five parts which span about 40 years and you'd really be attached to the characters as you see them 'grow up' page by page.

Overall, this is an interesting story, rich with drama and even richer with subliminal issues regarding politics, religion and love. Although it's quite thick (about 1076 pages), you wouldn't be able to put it down after the first few chapters and totally be engrossed in the story - as I did.

The only downside is how well everything turned out to be after each mishap faced by the village Kingsbridge. It seems like the author chose not to be so hard on the protagonists after all in the book.

For those of you who have heard about this book, get scared by its thickness and have chosen to resort to watching the TV series adaptation instead, I strongly recommend that you don't. While the adaption would give you a clearer picture of the story, the plot is rather choppy and it does no justice to the beautiful flow of the book. I've seen it and I must say, it failed to convey the difficulties faced by the priory in building the cathedral and have SO many changes from the book.

For instance, in the book Countess Regan is portrayed as an ugly woman with boils on her face and feared by her son, the Earl of Shiring. However in the TV series, she's beautiful with only a scar, killed her husband and - get this - in incestral relationship with the Earl. Uh, hello?

I've already got the sequel to this book, World Without End and really look forward to feast my eyes on it once I'm done with my exams.Indeed, The Pillars of the Earth is a book worth reading.