Kingsbridge 1: Pillars of the Earth

by Dee
Dee

Dee

Pillars of the Earth

Pillars of the Earth is one of those books that I will treasure forever. I will not trade or re-sell it as a preloved book. I am going to hold on to it until the day I die. This is the masterpiece of my time, and it shall remain as such.

In companion to the other three books, Pillars of the Earth is a perfect book. I gave it a 5-star at Goodreads, and I will never ever retract it. In principle, Pillars of the Earth can be read as a standalone. But who would want to do that to a Ken Follett book, right? You keep reading, my friends. You don’t put it down.

Pillars of the Earth: The Book, The Story

If you decide to start reading the Kingsbridge series with The Evening and the Morning, you will find yourself time-zapped 128 years after the stories of Ragna and Edgar. Pillars of the Earth illustrates a span of thirty-something years of people’s lives in what used to be known as Dreng’s Ferry. A reference to the toponymy of Kingsbridge was mentioned in Act 3 of Chapter 2.

I can’t decide who is the main character in this book. No, I can’t. There are several characters whose lives seemed to intertwine with each other: Prior Philip, Aliena, Jack, Tom, Ellen. But the story arcs didn’t stop there.

I wanted so much to break down the story simply as a battle between good and evil. Hell no, Ken Follett doesn’t do that! There are so many grey areas and contemplation and compromise scattered all over the sub-storylines. But that’s how life is. Even now.

If I should summarise the storyline, maybe I’d go with the following version. Pillars of the Earth is about how ambitions to build a cathedral may involve intrigue, hatred, envy, passionate love, hopes, shattered dreams, and murder. I hope that sums it up, but I believe it doesn’t do any justice.

WARNING: THIS IS NOT A BOOK FOR YOUNG READERS!!!

Since I had only read this book a decade ago, I forgot that Thomas Becket was an ornament to this story at the end. Also, I am more familiar with his story now, and I find the reconstruction of what happened to him was eloquently written. Now, I’m sure it’s not very historically accurate down to each sinew being torn apart. But to get a picture of what happened to Thomas Becket is one way to immerse me in an actual historical event.

Ken Follett decided that William Hamleigh is the correct character to involve himself in the assassination attempt of Thomas Becket, and I have no objection to that. This part is, of course, not true because William Hamleigh is only a character in this book, but he suited the role nonetheless. I also liked how Ken Follett imagined the events leading to the veneration of Becket as a martyr. The intermingling between imagination and real events is seamless, and I have no complaints.

Pillars of the Earth: A Decade Ago and Now

This book means a lot to me, and I don’t know why. Maybe it’s the captivating storytelling or the easily relatable human situations described on each page, or maybe because I realise now that there are people as horrible as William Hamleigh in real life. I purchased the 2007 mass-market paperback edition; I remember I was still in college. I wrote a what-I-call review back in August 2010, which I am going to incorporate here.

Pillars of The Earth captured me the first time I read it. The chapters transferred me from the hot and sunny home country to the gloomy grey of England. I loved every page, quickly turning them to the end of each chapter, hoping that there’d be a small conclusion for at least one character. There wasn’t any.

I find that Pillars of the Earth is such an emotive and evocative type of prose because I cried, smiled, or laughed throughout the book. Every scene was described meticulously by this extraordinary author. Using the word emotive and evocative, I feel like Ken Follett follows the guidelines by ICOMOS about installing a museum exhibition.

Re-reading it again in 2021 gave me new perspectives and sentiments as I grew older and (not) wiser. Ten years ago, I was mesmerised by the manner in which Ken Follett interweave the many characters he invented. The artsy way he put the law of six degrees onto each character was excellent. In the middle of the story, you might find yourself stopping and wondering there’s such an intricate entanglement between all characters that it seemed impossible to solve one without hurting the other. But that is life as we know it, isn’t it?

Verdict

This is one book without imperfection. Yes, the story does not make sense for us modern people, but such things can quite possibly happen in the past. I don’t have any negative words in reviewing this book, as it is beyond amazing. Beware: you won’t be able to put it down.

Last Words

I don’t think I am smart enough to weave in an eloquent review about the Kingsbridge quadrilogy. Some reviews dare to give this book a 1-star. Their rights, of course. But after I read those reviews, I notice one thing: they had failed to position their mindset to the correct timeline. I think they read this book as a 21st-century person with 21st-century values, which is terribly misleading. You won’t be able to enjoy any book if your mind is set with some kind of expectations.

Reading for me is similar to coming in virgin and fresh to an archaeological dig: expect nothing, assume nothing. That was my cardinal rules when I still have my trowels. I don’t dare to judge a layer of soil solely on what I already read in the previous reports. Most of the times, those reports cancel themselves.

I decided throughout the book that I don’t want to be the character in any of Ken Follett writings. He has this incredible gift of tossing, turning, churning, and slamming every known corner of the character’s emotions. For me, this definitely brought the readers on an emotional rollercoaster ride as well. Life is already hard as it is without being one of his characters, but I guess that’s what he wanted to depict.

I wanted so bad to “critique” the book by its writing style or its storyline, or its characters’ story arcs, but I don’t think I’m going in that direction with this review. There’s nothing to critique. All I know is that I want to continue to World Without End.

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