The Pillars of the Earth is an ambitious novel. Tolstoyesque in its scope and its presentation – it is divided into decent size chapters with nice short and accessible sub-sections. Unfortunately any of the other comparisons with Tolstoy, which surely must have been a model for this book, don’t reflect well on Follett. It is obvious that the detailed descriptions of churches and cathedrals were derived at from vigorous study and there is no doubt as to his ability to write a thriller (his suspenseful writing is indeed what drives the novel and the reader on), but his Tolstoyan tendency to allow characters to see into each others souls by merely studying the facial expressions of others often feels hollow.
The story itself is moving but too many of the characters and much of the plot seems to depend on convenience. The final third of the novel felt rushed and unbelievable and inevitably disappointing. Not to be too downcast, though, I would still recommend the book for the realism it manages to ascribe to the middle ages, often bringing to life a time so long gone, and undoubtedly for its beautiful depiction of the churches and cathedrals which have, in many respects, indeed become the pillars of our earth.