SBR: What a contrast The Pillars of the Earth is to my previous read Fire from Heaven. If the latter’s writing craft was too evolved for regular readers, the language and the style in The Pillars of the Earth is plainer and more boring than the school essays. The author feels the need to spell everything out for the reader, and even then he repeats things every once in a while. There is far too much “telling” and no “showing” whatsoever.
The characters are one-dimensional and flat. Whatever little comes out of them is more 20th century that 12th (which the book is supposed to be set in). Given the tumultuous background of the clash between the state and the church, the succession war and the machinations ambitious and opportunistic nobility and clergy, you would expect to see complex, gray characters trying to cope up with and make the best of the conflicts and the uncertainty. But the book sorely disappoints.
The scenes of rape, sex and violence are described in (porno)graphic details. Their sole purpose is to titillate; they don’t add anything to the story or the character development. They represent sadist male fantasy more than the reality.
The accuracy of the historical setup is questionable. The only research seems to be in the area of the cathedral architecture, which was the motivation behind writing the book. But that too, unfortunately, doesn’t add anything to the story.
The plot, I think, is meaty enough, but the treatment spoils it all.
To read or not to read: Don’t. This book is a classic example that famous need not be great.