Pillars of the Earth

Ken Follett, © 1989, this edition: Signet 1990 mass market paperback (40th printing), historical fiction

This nearly one thousand page book promised to be the story of the building of an English cathedral in twelfth century England.

After 260 pages I stopped reading, having grown tired of bad news piled on bad news, of greed, lechery, cruelty, sadness, disappointment, hopes smashed and every possible good or happy event turned aside by a multitude of characters who seemed to exist only to make life miserable for the few people in the book who were likable.

There are too many books I’ll enjoy reading for me to slog through nearly a thousand pages of pain and misery. As I neared the 250 page mark the first old stones were being removed from the cathedral site. Then it would have to be cleared, planned, designed, foundations put in, walls erected and all the rest. I’d hoped to read about an architectural wonder in the making, but what I got felt more like John Connelly meets Thomas Costain.

In all fairness, most of the people who finished the book were enthralled with it and have given it high praise. Perhaps my problem was I lacked sufficient patience to reap whatever reward the book had to offer. But I got tired of every few pages, another “uh-oh, this can’t have a good outcome” event occurring. Perhaps if Follett had sprinkled these things around a little more, but with the relentless pace of trials, troubles and betrayals it wore me down.

This was the second of my planned summer reading books. I hope things get better from here.

About Richard Robinson

Enjoying life in Portland, OR
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19 Responses to Pillars of the Earth

  1. Yeah, I’ve heard high praise for this book. But 250 pages is a good attempt.

  2. Bill Crider says:

    This is Judy’s best friend’s favorite book. Judy read it, but she wasn’t as enthusiastic. I didn’t even consider it. Too long for me. And there’s an equally long sequel.

  3. Richard says:

    David – I did give it fair try, I think. Perhaps it’s just not my kind of book, though I’ve read plenty of big historical novels in my time.

  4. Richard says:

    Bill – you warned me, I think, that it might be too long, when I listed it in my summer reading post. I read a books’ worth and didn’t even get into the beginning of the building phase.

    One thing I did find interesting is that this takes place about the same time as the Cadfael books, with Stephen and Maude disputing the throne.

  5. Evan Lewis says:

    I can’t remember what happened in this book or how it turned out, but I do remember being quite satisfied with it. Of course, I didn’t have to read it, I just listened.

  6. Not being much of a Follett fan, I likely would never have tried this one. After this post, it’s a sure thing.

    I may have to review my policy about not blogging on books I don’t like. I remember you saying something about letting people know about a bad book.

    It makes sense now.

    Thanks!

  7. Jeff Meyerson says:

    Does that mean reading the sequel is out?

    😉

  8. Todd Mason says:

    Well, here comes the Starz miniseries adaptation, anyway…Bill being a big fan of Starz historical drama (koff), you know he’ll be there…somewhere, doing something else…

  9. Richard says:

    Todd – No way to know if a film/television dramatization would bear much similarity to the long book, but I’ll skip it. Don’t get STARZ anyway, plus really don’t like anything that uses the rap/hip-hop/gangsta spelling substituting Z for the correct S. I seem to be full of prejudices lately, that’s what comes of getting to be a grumpy old man, I guess.

    Randy – I tried to paint a fair picture and stated that those who DID finish the book seemed to like it pretty well. Just was too depressing for me.

  10. Richard says:

    Jeff – this is billed as the prequel, I gather the other book was written first.

  11. You got farther than I did – I only lasted until about page 50. What amazes me is that with all the talk lately of people not reading anymore, and then this 1,000 page book comes along that everyone raves about?!

  12. Richard says:

    laurie – I thought with a book of this length I should give it a longer trial period than my usual 40 or so pages. I don’t regret what I read, I just got tired of one bummer after another.

  13. Todd Mason says:

    For what little it’s worth, I suspect they’re “Starz” because that was easier to trademark than “Stars” would be, rather as with the Syfylis Channel. If there’s any pay cable that is less hiphop than Starz, even given the utterly unhop, much less hip, Martin Lawrence comedy shows they used to do, I’d be hard-pressed to name it…

  14. Jerry House says:

    My wife, who has little patience with depressing books and with “door-stopper” books, actually read this and really enjoyed it. In fact, it ranks as one of her all-time favorites.

    I’m afraid, though, it will be a while before it reaches my Mount TBR.

  15. Reading a 1000 page book is a huge commitment. And the writer needs to make it worth the readers’ time. Too often, the effort isn’t rewarded.

  16. Carl V. says:

    I don’t blame you. You did indeed give it more than a fair shake with the number of pages you read and it sounds like it was a big downer. I’ve read books like this that do end up being worth while in the end, but they are 2-300 pages long, not a thousand. I can only take so much misery in an activity I am supposed to be engaging in for pleasure.

  17. Patti Abbott says:

    I know there are probably stories that take that long to tell, but there are many others that don’t. I’ll choose mine among them.

  18. Shelley Z. says:

    Agreed. I think I stopped around the same place you did for the very same reasons. It was a book club pick, and I was the only one who hated it.

  19. Richard says:

    Shelley – thank goodness, I was beginning to think I was the only one who didn’t love the book. I can only think perhaps as the book goes on…and on…that the events begin to numb the reader somewhat.

    [SPOILER] I read a review after I quit the book that not too far from the end of the book the main character is killed. I was glad I hadn’t read all that way to discover that![END SPOILER]

    Thanks fro stopping by. Have a great 4th.

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