“The Pillars of the Earth” by Ken Follett

Follett, Ken. The Pillars of the Earth  
New York: Morrow, 1989 
Penguin Audiobooks, narrated by John Lee

Highly recommended

“It’s a truism of the book business that the best advertising is the kind you can’t buy: the personal recommendation of one reader to another,” says Ken Follett in the preface to the recently rereleased versions of this novel.

Especially when that one reader is Oprah, who chose The Pillars of the Earth for her TV book club in November 2007. 

The Pillars of the Earth was largely ignored by critics when it first appeared, perhaps because it differed from the thrillers Follett had been writing. As he says in his 2007 preface, “In the book business, when you have had a success, the smart thing to do is write the same sort of thing once a year for the rest of your life.” But Follett had become interested in cathedrals and had wanted to write a novel about the people who built them even before he published his first bestseller, Eye of the Needle, in 1978. After the publication of Lie Down with Lions in 1985, he turned his attention in earnest to his cathedral novel and completed it in about three years.

The Pillars of the Earth is old-fashioned storytelling at its best. It covers the years 1135-1174 and tells the story of the building of a cathedral, a task often interrupted by personal vengeance, famine, and war. The characters are complex and believably human. (The main ecclesiastical personage, Prior Philip, is good but not TOO good.) The plot is ingenious and suspenseful. And everything works together beautifully to hold the reader’s interest over just under 1,000 pages in the mass market paperback format.

Oprah chose well.

Also recommended: Eye of the Needle, The Key to Rebecca, and World Without End.

© 2007 by Mary Daniels Brown

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