The Pillars of the Earth, by Ken Follett was, as you might expect, completely different from Follett's other stuff. Just after I started reading it, a few people asked me what it was about, and I replied that I had just started, but it seemed like it was about building cathedrals. [That's when I got the funny faces, wrinkled noses, you know, like someone stepped in something.] But that's not what its about, thankfully.
Follett uses the building of a cathedral as a framework on which to hang his story; maybe saga is a better word. The story is really about people. Its an historical novel about people in the 1100's and what life was like for a group in England, who happen to have a cathedral in common. The energy and effort that goes into the building of a cathedral in this era is huge, and that's what drives the story.
Follett has a fresh take on the people of this time period, and seems to take some of his clues from other early evidence, such as The Canterbury Tales, to give his characters life in a way that modern day readers can relate to. Characters fall into two main groups: the church folk, and the not church folk. Each group is further broken down into good guys, and bad guys. That is: there those factions within both the men of the cloth, and the laymen, who want to get the cathedral built, and there are those within each group who don't. Got it? Maybe that's why it takes just shy of a thousand pages to get this story wrapped up.
I actually enjoyed this one quite a bit. I was concerned when I first started it, that it would be a retelling of The Heaven Tree trilogy by Edith Pargeter--which was also very good, by the way--but I'm happy to say that it wasn't.
Apparently, there was a TV mini-series based on the book. I found this whilst doing a little research. Did anyone see it?
Read this book, first.