It has been a few weeks since I (thankfully!) finished The Goldfinch and I have managed to add another rather hefty tome to my “done and dusted” pile. I seem to be doing a kind of literary self-flagellation with all of these extra-long novels – I may have to pluck something short and sprightly from the bookshelf next – but I must say that you get quite a different sense of satisfaction from polishing off a book that you’ve been reading over the course of a few weeks. It’s like a lesson in endurance. And you end up thinking about the characters even when you’re not reading about them, because they have somehow infiltrated your mind and soaked into your subconscious thoughts, always there, ready and waiting for you to pick up the novel once again at bedtime.
Actually, I’ve been reading Ken Follett’s The Pillars of the Earth much more than just at bedtime: I’ve been picking it up over lunch, snatching a few escape-from-reality moments as I chew on a sandwich; I’ve been sneaking a chapter or two when I wake up, rather than pointlessly checking twitter or having an extra nine minutes of sleep. I’ve found myself becoming completely sucked into Ken Follett’s medieval world that has proper evil baddies and Knights in Shining Armour and hero peasants and lazy monks. The Pillars of the Earth follows the building of a cathedral and the various misfortunes and unjust happenings that befall the people involved. It’s your typical “good vs evil” kind of plot, with a hideous Lord who rapes and pillages and a clever and likeable Prior who repeatedly thwarts him, but there are so many ups and downs and twists and turns that it’s impossible to outline the plot for you in any great detail. Just know that it’s a rollercoaster ride! (Sometimes frustratingly so. I must say that the ups and downs do become a little bit predictable towards the end.)
If you enjoy the Shardlake series of books then you’ll appreciate this novel’s historical backdrop, but don’t be put off if you hate anything too factual: this is enjoyable fiction through and through. Follett has the kind of effortless writing style that’s lovely to read – the perfect balance of dialogue and descriptive passages, the right amount of dark humour and serious observation. His attention to detail is just brilliant and his characters are colourful and believable.
This should be a definite Christmas List addition for those who love historical fiction but have done all of the Sansoms and the Philippa Gregorys and other releases of the more recent years. It came out in 2007 and I can’t believe it escaped my notice (thanks to Jess Tibbits at Instyle for the recommendation). It’s something of a long-haul effort to get it finished, but it’s compelling right until the very end. If you’re buying it as a present then you probably won’t want to give a battered old copy like mine (a penny plus postage from Amazon Marketplace!) – you can find a new one on Amazon here for £7.19.