This book captivated me for several days, and I fully enjoyed it despite its faults. As anyone stumbling across this review probably knows, this book is about the building of a cathedral in 12th century England and spans several decades. It features Prior Philip of the monastery building the cathedral, the family of builders who direct the work, and the local nobility. My favorite aspect of Pillars (aside from the plot, which despite the book's length is always moving) was the depiction of the way regular people lived in the 12th century. It felt very gritty and realistic. And of course, you'll learn all about the building of cathedrals: not only the architecture, but the politics behind their building and financing.
Because so much has already been said about this one, I'd like to address specific issues that dissatisfied readers often bring up:
- The characters. They're decently well-developed, but nothing spectacular. There is some moral ambiguity to the "good guys," but not as much as there might have been; Follett neatly aligns all the sympathetic characters on the pro-cathedral side, while the unsympathetic characters are almost all anti-cathedral. The villains are polarizing: I found them believable, but if you want fiction to "explain" sadistic behavior through childhood traumas (or if you're especially disturbed by graphic rape scenes, of which there are a few), this book may not be for you.
- The writing. Follett is a thriller writer and this is not a literary book. Sentences like "Tom felt depressed" are not unusual. If nearly 1000 pages of that would drive you nuts, don't read it. Also, the language is modern (to be fair, people at the time would have been speaking Middle English if they were commoners, or Norman French if they were nobles, so Follett can hardly be expected to use authentic 12th century diction).
- The role of women. There are a couple of self-sufficient female characters in the book, which feels anachronistic to some. It worked for me--there were craftswomen at the time and it's silly to suggest that no female possessed business sense before the 20th century--but I thought Follett took it too far when he introduced the adult Sally at the end. This is the one potential exception I see to the historical accuracy of the work.
My biggest issues with the book were 1) that some major plot points depended on characters doing things obviously antithetical to their interests, like not escaping from jail when they had the opportunity, and 2) that the conflict dragged a bit in the middle, with the same villains throwing up more obstacles, only to be outwitted again by the heroes. Also, I'd have liked a diagram of a cathedral, since the book used terms I don't know. Overall though, I enjoyed this book and would recommend it to those who don't demand literary merit from their reading material.