Well, I finally finished the audiobook version of The Pillars of the Earth, and it is definitely epic in scope. This makes it easy to do a decent job of characterization (plenty of pages and time to develop the characters), but also makes it difficult to keep that characterization consistent. In this respect, I think the Follett did a good job with most of the characters. The only flaw (as with any "period piece") is that the "ingenious" or "devious" characters are also amazingly modern in their thinking, their inspirations, and their hopes and dreams. It's almost beyond belief that so many of these 12th century English men and women from these small towns would all be so clever and come up with ideas that decades and even centuries ahead of their time.
That's not even my main complaint about the book. My biggest problem with it was the graphic descriptions of the depravity of William Hamleigh (especially in audiobook format). As someone who has read Stephen King and other horror novels before, even I thought there were several extremely disturbing passages. When listening on a CD, they it is even worse because it is unfortunately quite difficult to know just how far to skip ahead without potentially missing some critical plot point.
Unfortunately, the same holds true for the love-making scenes. It almost seems as though the author took a detour into erotica and forgot he was writing a book in which the building of a cathedral church is the central plot point!
In case you missed what I'm trying to say, this book is not for the squemish or the morally sensitive.
All that said, Mr. Follett did a very good job (especially for an atheist) at describing and portraying the "hero" of his tale, Prior Philip, a Benedictine monk. He also did a surprsingly good job of describing the internal struggles of the other religious figures (whether mostly good or mostly villainous).
Overall, it was a decent book, but not one I'd recommend to many people I know. Furthermore, I'm not all that sure I "enjoyed" reading it. I wanted to really like it (since my brother's girlfriend had recommended it to me, and we all seem to have similar tastes), and at times, it was an interesting description of Gothic architecture and medieval life in England; at other times, though, it seemed to be too much like a bawdy and ultraviolent soap opera. (I guess I just like tales that are a little more escapist and aren't so depressingly much like real life.)