Tag Archives: Susan Howatch

A great historical saga – Susan Howatch – Cashelmara

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My boyfriend said to me “Why are you reading that it looks like a trashy Danielle Steele novel?”, well don’t let the dodgy cover put you off, this book is fantastic.  It is a well-written, fascinating historical saga.   I LOVE Susan Howatch’s historical  novels. I first read this when I was a teenager and it is just one of those books that you keep returning to every few years as you know you will get an engrossing, page turner that will make you want to give up doing anything apart from reading.

This story is based upon the lives of the English King Edwards I, II and III, and as you would expect due to their momentous lives, this novel is pretty dramatic.  The story however is updated to 19th century Ireland with the country estate Cashelmara representing the English kingdom. Every section ends with a cliffhanger so you just have to keep reading.

The novel opens with the story of the aristocratic and successful Edward de Salis, a widower in his 60s, who has travelled to America (which represents the French kingdom) where he meets 18-year-old Marguerite and falls in love with her.  Unfortunately Edward’s son Patrick is completely unsuited to the requirements of being an aristocratic landowner, he prefers wood carving, art, gambling and has a strong attachment to his friend Derry O Strachlan which alienates all of those around him.  After Edward’s death the situation becomes more and more destructive with Patrick taking another male lover and his wife Sarah vowing to destroy them.  After all this intrigue and murder it  is left to their son Ned to try to restore Cashelmara to its former glory.

If you haven’t read any of Susan Howatch’s novels before but you love history and a great read I would certainly recommend this or Penmarric or the Wheel of Fortune, her three best novels.

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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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