Thursday, April 17, 2008

The Pillars of the Earth

I recently finished reading The Pillars of the Earth. I went into reading this book with some preconceived notions of what to expect - which is a little unusual for me. However, the book completely sideswiped the majority of my expectations.

Why I had expectations and what they were:

1. My mom gave me the book and told me it was about the building of churches. To help you understand, my mother has always been very conservative throughout my life. We were really only allowed to read Christian novels, appropriate teen novels (ie. The Boxcar Children, Ella Enchanted, etc.), classics, and educational materials growing up. So I assumed that this book would fall within those categories - or at least be modest without a hint of the risque or gruesome. First assumption = wrong, so very wrong.

Okay - so that was really my only BIG assumption about this book. However, Ken Follett treated each character's life and person with no regard. The main characters die - suddenly without any foreshadowing. The main villain repeatedly rapes (in graphic detail) woman after woman. [I had to skip some very disturbing scenes...]

The protagonists do "bad" things that you wouldn't expect and each character has their own flaws which make them all too human.

And I expected a happy fairy tale book about building beautiful churches for God.

However, with all of the smashed preconceived notions about this book, I could hardly put the book down. He builds each character to perfection - you absolutely loathe the villain because of the detailed descriptions of the awful things he does. You have sympathy for his victims (one of which is one of the main characters), and you desperately want him dead throughout the entire book. Which happily ends up happening in a way that makes you almost (but not quite) pity the evil man because of what he turns into in his old age.

You follow the desperation of Tom Builder whose wife dies in the beginning of the book and who falls in love with a beautiful forest woman, Ellen, shortly thereafter. However, he's desperate for work and his family and Ellen and her son are near starvation when they seek shelter of the monastery of Prior Phillip (also a main character). To summarize, Ellen's son burns down the church so that Tom will have work by rebuilding it. Everyone thinks it was a lightning strike, so building begins and Tom and Ellen's children grow up.

Then after many struggles and successes of the main characters - Tom suddenly is killed. Just like that. However, his death does not stop the book from moving forward. It's as if there are 10 main characters in this book and 5 villains. The book could move forward endlessly and you would still have a main character to root for and a villain to hate. Villains emerge and dissipate just as the protagonists emerge and dissipate. It's an interesting way to write a book - a little disconcerting at times, but still very enjoyable.

I would recommend this book if you can stomach gruesome battles, heated love scenes, and descriptive rapes. I honestly couldn't, so I skipped several parts. However, there is something to be said about the descriptiveness because it makes your heart break for those who are hurt and hate those who commit the vile acts of treachery. So do I suggest that you read it? Maybe - and then maybe not. I think that you shouldn't do what I did and start the book unaware of the intense scenes, because it is a hard book to stop reading once you have begun.

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