Jack Jackson, Tom Builder,
Prior Philip, William Hamley,
As you can see from above, I didn’t actually read this book as I got it with my free credit from Audible.co.uk. I’ve been meaning to read this book for ages but because of its length, have always put it off! So when I got my credit all the way back in December, I decided I would finally listen to The Pillars of the Earth and see what all the hype was about!
As an audiobook the story was ok. The length (in time) of the book is just over 48 hours, which seemed to take forever to get to the end of. But to be fair to the book, I mostly listened to it when walking to and from uni/work and have only tried in the last week or so to make a big push to get it finished. It was narrated really well by John Lee but at the start of the book, Lee’s voice and accent were hard to get used to, so much so, that the way he said ‘forehead’ made me laugh a few times! Nevertheless, by the end of the novel I liked Lee’s narration.
The book itself is based in the 12th Century around the building of Kingsbridge Cathedral in Southern England. The novel is split up into a number of different stories and characters that all revolve around the building of the Cathedral. The main plots are that of Tom Builder, Aliena and the evil William Hamley and finally, Prior Philip. Each of these stories interact with each other and really explains the vastness (and length!) of this novel.
Tom Builder is as his name suggests a builder. Tom, his pregnant wife and his two children have fallen on hard times and as Tom can’t find work, forcing them to ‘tramp’ the roads looking for a construction site that Tom to work on. Unfortunately, Tom’s wife Agnes dies in labour giving birth to his new-born son. What’s made even worse is the fact that Tom has to abandon the new-born, as he has no milk to feed it with. Distraught and heartbroken, Tom gives up on life and wanders into the forest to die. Luckily for Tom, he bumps into Ellen and her son Jack.
Ellen heals Tom’s heart and eventually they fall in love. Ellen agrees to accompany Tom on the road until he can find work. The family ends up in Kingsbridge, a small Cathedral town where Tom hopes he can get work. It has always been Tom’s dream to build a Cathedral and he hopes that because of its run down state, he will be able to get a job rebuilding Kingsbridge. At first, Tom can’t get work. However, when the Cathedral is mysteriously burnt down, Tom is named the Master Builder and finally gets to live his dream of building a Cathedral.
Aliena is the daughter of the Earl of Shiring and is set to marry William Hamley, the son of a local property owner. Aliena has nothing but contempt for the arrogant youth and refuses to marry him. This causes the Hamley’s to become the greatest enemies of Aliena’s father and when they learn that the Earl is part of a conspiracy against the King, they use it to get their revenge. William sneaks into the Earl’s Castle (at Earlscastle) and manages to capture Aliena’s father. As congratulation for the capture of a traitor, the Hamley’s are awarded Earlscastle and the Earldom of Shiring by King Stephen.
William goes to claim his prize but finds Aliena and her brother Richard still living in the castle. William and his men violently rape Aliena and throw her and her brother out of the castle. However, Aliena is not beaten and manages to build herself up as a rich wool merchant and finances Richard, making him able to contest the Hamley’s hold on their fathers Earldom!
Prior Philip is the hard working Prior of the small Cell of monks at the Monastery of St. John in the Forest. Philip believes that hard work gains reward (especially in the eyes of God) and runs his Cell extremely efficiently even though he is still only a young man! However, Philip’s life is changed forever when his brother Francis comes to visit the Cell. Francis brings news that the Earl of Shiring is the leader of a group of conspirators who want to depose the current King of England. Francis wants Philip to take this news to the Bishop of Kingsbridge and put a stop to the civil war that will un-doubtfully arise if the revolt is successful. Philip takes the news to Shiring but finds the Bishop isn’t there! Instead, Philip gives the new to the Arch-Deacon- Waleran Bigod.
After sharing the news, Philip returns to his Cell and finds out that the Prior of Kingsbridge is dead. Philip goes to Kingsbridge to pay his respects and is there convinced by his friend Cuthbert Whitehead to run in the election for the next Prior. Philip is aided in this by Waleran Bigod, who as an Arch-Deacon has a lot of influence over the Priory. All Waleran wants in exchange is Philip’s support for his claim to the Bishopric of Kingsbridge when the current Bishop dies. Philip agrees to give his support. What Philip does not know is that the current Bishop is already dead! When he finds out, he vows never to be man-handled by Waleran Bigod again!
My synopsis is only the very tip of the iceberg of what is The Pillars of the Earth and I hope it shows how these stories all interact and connect together. Overall, I did enjoy this book but at times found it repetitive, especially when it came to William Hamley’s attempts at sabotaging Kingsbridge. However, I really liked the fact that Follett added in historical characters such as Thomas Becket, King Henry and King Stephen. I thought adding these characters made the book much more believable. Moreover, adding events such as Becket’s murder really helped make the events in the book fit in with the context of the 12th Century, again making the book more realistic and believable.
I would suggest this book to anyone who is a fan of historical-fiction novels especially Dissolution by C. J. Sansom as that novel is also based around a monastery.
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