Sunday, September 17, 2017

The Pillars of The Earth

The Pillars of the Earth
by Ken Follett
Recommended Ages: 14+

A dear friend of mine, from whom changes in the circumcstances of life have separated me, once gave me a copy of this book, along with one or two others, and strongly urged me to read it. I can still recall her enthusiastic description of it, doing a pantomime of the eager turning of pages, with breathless comments like, "Oh my God! Did she really! No way! He didn't! They wouldn't! Tell me more!" It testifies to my trust in that friend's judgment that I kept that book on my (admittedly enormous) to-read shelf for years and years, though I gave priority to other books in the meantime. I finally found an opportunity to heed my friend's advice when the availability of an audiobook edition, just when I was about to go on a long road-trip. So now I can say, "Thanks, Amanda, for pointing me in the direction of some terrific entertainment!"

The Pillars of the Earth has achieved bestseller status without any help from me; in fact, it is probably the best-known book by its fairly prolific author. It was adapted as a TV miniseries in 2010, which is useful to know, because I wouldn't have known how to spell the characters' names correctly were it not for a webpage listing the cast of that film. It focuses on a large handful of characters whose status as protagonists or antagonists is in reference to the building of a great cathedral in the village of Kingsbridge in 12th-century England, during a period known to historians as the Anarchy, due to the effects of a civil war between three rival claimants to the throne (for the record, Stephen, Maud, and eventual winner Henry I). It was also the period during which Thomas Beckett, the Archbishop of Canterbury, became in rapid succession a martyr and a saint, due to his conflict with King Henry; and when the trend in cathedral-building tipped from Romanesque (rounded) arches to Gothic (pointed) ones.

Embedded in that historical context, high drama spins out of the rivalries between a Benedictine monk named Philip and a ruthlessly ambitious bishop named Waleran Bigod, and between a headstrong girl named Aliena, who has sworn to restore her brother Richard to the earldom that was taken from their father, and the monstrous Percy Hamleigh, who... well, if I listed his crimes here, you wouldn't believe me. You'll just have to read the book. Caught in the middle are a stonemason named Tom Builder and his gifted stepson Jack, who has a rivalry of his own both with Percy and with Tom's rather disappointing son Alfred. Jack also happens to be in love with Aliena, but both Percy and Alfred are in lust with her, and... well, you know where this is going, whether you read the book or not; but along the way are the kinds of surprises that will have you eagerly turning pages and making breathless comments like, "Oh my God! Did she really! No way! He didn't! They wouldn't! Tell me more!" I was warned about this, so now I warn you. Amanda was right.

I didn't realize until my road-trip was underway that the audiobook I had purchased of this novel, read by Richard E. Grant, was an abridged edition. If someone finds out who made the decision to produce an abridged audiobook of this novel - part of a series of abridged installments that I have seen on store shelves, but will now know better than to buy - I wish they would do me a personal favor and leave a flaming brown-paper lunch bag full of dog poo on that person's doorstep. Those of us who frequently drive great distances with only audiobooks to keep us sane, will not feel we have been done a favor by having a long-anticipated bestseller reduced to eight measly CDs. So, not only didn't it last even half of my road trip, it didn't provide me with the full Pillars of the Earth experience that I could have gotten by listening to the version recorded by John Lee. And since I have spoken of a series, let it be known that, whosoever may have recorded them in abridged or unabridged audio, the sequels to this book are World Without End and A Column of Fire.

Ken Follett is also the author of the Apples Carstairs trilogy (The Big Needle, etc.), the Piers Roper books (The Shakeout, etc.), the Century Trilogy (Fall of Giants, etc.), and a variety of other novels, some of them written under the pen-names Symon Myles, Martin Martinsen, Zachary Stone, and Bernard L. Ross. Their titles include The Power Twins, The Modigliani Scandal, Capricorn One, The Key to Rebecca, Lie Down with Lions, Night Over Water, A Dangerous Fortune, The Hammer of Eden, Hornet Flight, and Whiteout.

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