Review of The Pillars of the Earth

No spoiler alerts here. I read the first quarter of this book, and that was enough for me. Maybe it was because I had just finished reading The Grapes of Wrath for the first time, re-acquainting myself with fiction’s potential to uniquely and powerfully communicate truth, as it does in Steinbeck’s classic. Of course, fiction’s potential isn’t always realized.

It sounded great in theory: a historical novel set in Medieval times about a master builder whose chief aspiration in life is to build a glorious, magnificent cathedral. In practice, Ken Follett’s The Pillars of the Earth is full of patronizing plot tricks; shallow, cartoonish characters; gratuitious sex and violence; and wearisome, dull-headed internal conversations. In short, it is titillating and boring at the same time. Like watching TV. Since the miniseries just came out, I figure I’m better off closing the book and watching it, since that will cost me a lot less time. Follett observes in the preface that this is his best novel, giving me an opportunity to save yet more time and pick someone else to read.

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