Karl looked at the cover of this and said “what are you reading this trash for?”. As a teenager I LOVED Susan Howatch and even now when I reread either this book, or her other sagas Penmarric or Cashelmara I still love her. Now admittedly the cover of the 1980s edition isn’t great and makes you look as if you are reading trash, but don´t let this put you off as it is a fantastic book. All of her historical family sagas are great but she did seem to go through some religious conversion or something in the 90s and her most recent books became a bit moralistic and not as engaging. I was reading on wikipedia that “she experienced a spiritual epiphany, and concluded that she should continue to write novels, but to “set forth my discoveries in the light of faith”, which show why some of her books might be more boring. Although I did read that actually the Church of England Starbridge novels are her most popular according to Wikipedia which seems a mystery to me.
Anyway the brilliant Wheel of Fortune is a family saga set in Gower. It is a modern retelling of the story of the Black Prince, John of Gaunt, Richard II and Henry IV and V, so as you can imagine there is quite a lot of drama and murder. The plot concerns the Godwin family and their obsession to possess the family estate Oxmoon, which represents the throne of England. The story is told from the perspective of six characters from pre World War I to the 1970s. The fact that she incorporates a version of the story of Edward II´s murder and his wifes Isabella imprisonment for his murder and her subsequent madness makes for a really interesting storyline.. The theme of fortune obviously recurs throughout the book (as it did through medieval thought) with the changing fortunes of the characters but also the idea of the circle of time and we see history repeating itself through the characters. It opens with Robert (the Black Prince) who obviously has some psychological disorder, as do most of the characters which makes them so interesting. He is a successful man who is obsessed with winning and being the first. He is a bit of a misogynist but he loves his cousin Ginevra and hopes to win her to recreate the Oxmoon of his youth but it all goes disastrously wrong. The other parts of the book deal with the theme of familial competition which at times has fatal results. The final chapter drags a bit as it is just a detection story about the mystery on the worms head between Harry and Kester but the end made me cry.
The backdrop of the Gower is central to the story and this book inspired me to visit there three times. One of the most dramatic parts of the book takes place on the Worm´s Head which is a set of rocks shaped like a dragon (supposedly), joined to the mainland by a causeway at low tide. After walking it this summer I can testify that it is really hard and a bit dangerous, nearly fell off a few times.
The novel is over a 1000 pages long but don’t let this put you off, if you like great historical fiction this really is the best and is an absolute page turner (even if like me, you have read it four times before). This review probably hasn´t done it justice, sorry.