Top critical review
Not as strong as the first two books in the trilogy
20 May 2016
I’ve read and enjoyed the first two books in the trilogy, but unfortunately I felt disappointed by this one. The first two books contained a mix of politics, warfare, everyday life/the home front and relationships, whereas this one seemed to be purely politics with a lot of sex thrown in. I don’t mind well written sex scenes in moderation, but there was a sex scene in almost every chapter here and it felt like they had just been added in to liven up a plotline which is otherwise a bit dull. The only characters I felt interested in were Rebecca and Walli; partly because their storylines focused on everyday East and then West German life, and also because none of the other characters seemed to have been developed, they simply had jobs that allowed them to be involved in key aspects of history. Finding out about the Cuban Missile Crisis and Civil Rights Movement was interesting as they happened before my time, but nonetheless I never felt invested in any of the characters involved and the dialogue between them was often wooden. I was also disappointed that there was nothing about British politics during this period (Thatcherism, the miner’s strike etc.); the main focus was American history and politics, with the ins and outs of presidential elections, which doesn’t interest me as much. The chapter on Vietnam was very powerful, but it felt like it was skipped over very quickly.
I also felt that the novel was far too male-dominated: sex and relationships were usually described from the male POV, which I found difficult to relate to; the only thing most of the men seemed to have on their minds was sex and power/ambition; and most came across as very arrogant and sexist even when they were supposed to be the ‘good guys’. There were very few strong female characters, unlike in the other books; Rebecca was the only woman who was likeable.
The first two books were justifiably long, but this one felt like it was long just for the sake of being long. I’ve been a fan of Ken Follett’s writing for years and The Pillars of the Earth is one of my all time favourite novels, but sadly this book seemed rushed and it felt like he had got bored with the series. Hopefully his next book will be more exciting.