NaBloPoMo #6 - Talk about the opening of your favourite book.
I have so many wonderful books that I could write about today. Several years ago (actually I just looked inside the front cover and it was in 2000!), the mother of one of my students gave me Ken Follet's first book, The Pillars of the Earth, as a Christmas gift. She was a former English teacher who loved historical fiction - we were kindred spirits in that way. All of this was long before the book became wildly popular. I read it over the Christmas holidays that year and enjoyed every page!
The book is set in medieval England and opens with a prologue where in 1123 AD a hanging happens in the village square. As a young man hangs, a teenaged pregnant woman places a curse on a knight, a monk and a priest, who were at the court when the young thief was convicted. From this scene, the book jumps to 1135 and begins to trace the career of Tom, a builder and his son, Alfred. Tom has a dream to work on a cathedral but suddenly finds himself out of work. Moving on with his family, while travelling through the woods, they are attacked by thieves who steal the family's pig. It's in the woods that they meet Ellen, the young woman who had delivered the curses earlier, now has a son and is considered a witch.
The novel continues to follow the paths of these first characters and the author skillfully interweaves their stories to give us a glimpse into the people who lived and worked in England at this time. The first theme we see is how the power of nobility and church resulted in much social inequality and hardship for common classes. Another theme that the author creates is the development of trade guilds and the creative thinking of builders, using new ideas and ways of building. The use of the arch revolutionized building techniques, especially in cathedrals being built at this time. The story has several strong women characters and they are developed in ways quite contrary to the social norms of the day ( a theme that I always enjoy).
Follett is an excellent storyteller and always holds my attention, in this case through 983 paperback pages. The word pictures he paints are vivid and full of rich imagery. He brings his characters right to life and continually surprises readers with the interconnected weavings of people, events and buildings. To paraphrase the back cover, intrigue, power, passion and romance form the outline of the story.
I loved it 12 years ago - and I still love it!