Wednesday, August 18, 2010

On Ken Follett

One day in my high school library I picked up a book by Ken Follett, The Key to Rebecca.  The cover jumped out at me-- a key in the shape of the Nazi swastika (excellent marketing on the part of the publisher).  After reading and thoroughly enjoying The Key to Rebecca, I didn't merely read, I downright devoured just about every book Ken Follett wrote (even his first few that had initially been published under the pseudonym "Zachary Stone" and had only recently been republished with Follett's real name).  To this day I consider him to be one of the best, if not the best of what one might classify as "the airport authors"-- you know the ones whose books you find at airport newsstands.  They're thoroughly entertaining, but not exactly thought provoking reads with somewhat formulaic plots that after awhile start to feel a bit interchangeable.

I've read some Daniel Silva, some John Grisham, some David Baldacci, some Dan Brown and a few others whose names elude me.  Their books were mildly entertaining but other than some of Grisham's earlier works-- none of them really left any impression with me.  Their was a generic-ness  to them that made them imminently forgettable-- the fast food of the publishing industry if you will. 

So I do feel kind of bad lumping Ken Follett into such dubious company as his books are at least a step above most of the other writers I've just mentioned.  There are a couple of his books I've read more than once and one I've actually read THREE times (A Dangerous Fortune).  I can't say that for any of the other authors whose names I've mentioned.  So that speaks to Follett's writing at a somewhat higher level than the authors who sit next to him in those airport newsstands.

In 1994 I embarked on a bit of a literary journey with Mr. Follett--  I started reading The Pillars of the Earth.  It was (and I believe, still is) the longest book he's ever written.  Recently Starz started airing an 8 part miniseries adaptation of Pillars of the Earth that has (at least thus far) been very entertaining and thoroughly enjoyable.  The casting is exceptional-- Ian McShane as Waleran Bigod; Matthew McFadyen as Prior Phillip, Rufus Sewell as Tom Builder, and in a short cameo in the first two episodes Donald Sutherland as the Earl of Shiring. 

The miniseries has been so good that I'm tempted to go back and re-read the book.  It has been over 16 years since my last crack at it.  From what I can tell the miniseries has been quite faithful to the book, but my memory of the book is hazy after all this time.  I am curious to see if the miniseries really IS that faithful to the book or if my memory of the book-- as hazy as it is-- is being overly generous.

A few years ago Follett even penned a sequel, World Without End, set a couple hundred years after The Pillars of the Earth with a completely new cast of characters but the same setting as The Pillars of the Earth.  The sequel while not quite as good as the original is still a thoroughly enjoyable read.

I do wonder if, based on the success of the Pillars of the Earth miniseries, a second miniseries will be done for World Without End.  Time will tell, I guess.

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