“Build a beautiful cathederal for me,” she said.
I can’t quite recall, but I think I brought this book around the time the TV series came out in 2010. If not, I must’ve brought it for a holiday and then never got round to reading it. All the same, I finally knuckled down and got on with reading this monumental saga. All 1087 pages of it.
Spanning a period of about 1123-1174, it covers a massive chunk of history. Most of the central characters are fictional, but the historical period is not. Trying to explain what the main motivations of this book are is a daunting task. Put simply, it is the story of a cathedral. There is so much more than that, though. It covers three generations of people, against the historical/social turmoil of the past and of the erection of a cathedral.
A lot is packed into this story. There’s love, loss, turmoil, pillage, despair, hatred. When the villain is bad, he’s bad. When he’s evil, he’s horrific. The graphic descriptions of his rape and pillage are horrific indeed.
With the descriptions of Aliena throughout the book’s entirety, it feels as if her character was meant to be put across as a girl who is supposed to fight for what she believes in, given the difficult circumstances she kept on encountering. This is supposed to be 12th century Winchester, after all.
Ah, yes. And Winchester. I’m currently sitting at one of the computers at the uni, surrounded by the detritus of Kitkat wrappers. In the sections of the book which involved Winchester, it was written very vividly and as I know the city well enough – having lived here for a year and a half – I read it with my mind going on a journey. A magical mystery tour, if you will. Of course, times have long changed in over 800 years but the historical bones of the city remain.
While this book was very engaging, some elements of it were a bit too much. As mentioned, the horrific nature of the villain, William Hamleigh, got too much at certain points. Some of the vernacular also seemed to spill over into the 20th century which was a bit distracting. The prevalence of mentioning gratuitous sex and describing someone’s naked body in slow, uxorious detail was a bit too pervasive.
Despite all, however, the book was good. The threads of the story ended well (and the story could have been shorter by about 100 pages). My favourite scene was when Jack, the master builder, and Jonathan, the young sub prior, connected over their family relationship. Its all about identity.
“When I’m Prior…I’m going to build a little monastery just here, with a chapel and a hostel, so that in future no traveller on this stretch of road will ever have to spend a cold winter’s night sleeping in the open air,”
MY RATING: ***.5 / *****