Susan Howatch – The Wheel of Fortune

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.



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8 responses to “Susan Howatch – The Wheel of Fortune

  1. This is a fabulous book, and should be required reading for all those authors trying to write multiple first person narratives.

  2. lana

    I’ve read a lot of SH’s novels but I think that it’s one of her best books. despite the huge amount of pages it’s easy to read and you find it difficult to tear oneself away from the book. it leaves a really long-lasting and deep impression.

  3. Pingback: A great historical saga – Susan Howatch – Cashelmara | Rotten Books

  4. Anonymous

    I have always loved this book, and have read it about five times. I think it is my favourite Susan Howatch novel of all.

  5. asha

    I agree with you. Wheel of Fortune is a great book and your review does it a lot of justice. You have captured the gist very well.

  6. [“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.. “]

    This story line was incorporated with even greater detail in the second half of Howatch’s 1974 novel, “CASHELMARA”.

  7. Wind Elicius

    I read this book for the first time in February of 2015 and damn, it wasn’t just the captivity of the characters that got me. I felt and still do feel that I became one of the characters once i read through their points of view. It was honestly scary. I only read it once and it scared me of how badly u can picture myself as if i am ib thw story itself.

  8. Gloria Etes

    I have read all of the Starbridge novels, and I love Susan Howatch’s unique writing style! Her characters come alive to the reader. I read Cashelmara just before reading The Wheel of Fortune. There are so many characters in this 1,000+ page book, I’m amazed that I was able to keep them all straight. At the same time, I was mentally referring to Edward II’s murder and the characters in Cashelmara, as well as another book I read about John of Gaunt, and then one about a history of the Plantagenets. So I felt as if I were reading all four books at the same time. Almost surreal at times!

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