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Penmarric by Susan Howatch

Cashelmara by Susan Howatch

The Rich Are Different by Susan Howatch

Sins of the Fathers by Susan Howatch

The Wheel of Fortune by Susan Howatch

Glittering Images by Susan Howatch

Glamorous Powers by Susan Howatch

Ultimate Prizes by Susan Howatch

Scandalous Risks by Susan Howatch

Mystical Paths by Susan Howatch

Absolute Truths by Susan Howatch

The Wonder Worker by Susan Howatch

The High Flyer by Susan Howatch

Susan Howatch

One of the more entertaining things I've done recently is start a discussion list for a long-time favorite author of mine: Susan Howatch. I first read one of her books (The Rich Are Different) when I was 17 in 1983, and haven't stopped since. But online resources have always been a bit scarce, and the only decent Howatch fan page, by Jennifer Austa Harris at UMN, recently faded away (too sad), so I started this list at eGroups (now Yahoo Groups) in May 2000... now we're approaching 100 members. Feel free to drop by and read the message archives or look at our collection of Howatch links, you don't have to join the list to do this.

For a sample list message - a long rant from me about how good The Wheel of Fortune is - see below.

On the list we discuss the Howatch family sagas, published between 1971-84: Penmarric, Cashelmara, The Rich are Different, Sins of the Fathers, The Wheel of Fortune. And the fabulous Starbridge series, about the Church of England 1937-68: Glittering Images, Glamorous Powers, Ultimate Prizes, Scandalous Risks, Mystical Paths, Absolute Truths. The most recent books are the ones set in and around the St Benet's healing centre: The Wonder Worker (A Question of Integrity) and The High Flyer - Susan Howatch is hard at work on a third in the series, provisionally called The Heartbreaker.
In her early years Howatch also wrote a number of gothic novels, most notably The Devil on Lammas Night. In the mid-'90s she edited several volumes in the Library of Anglican Spirituality.

An outstanding feature of Susan Howatch's writing is the way she can describe a situation from the point of view of several characters in turn, take you into each character's mind and soul, and somehow make the whole book so much more than the sum of its parts. Her family sagas are all retellings of well-known historical events in a 19th or 20th century setting, which makes her work of interest for historical fiction fans too. Personally, I love picking out the historical parallels, and have put together lists of them for all the family sagas.

For the record, my favorite saga is Sins of the Fathers and my favorite Starbridge book is Glamorous Powers. If you enjoy Howatch's writing too, and want to talk about it - email me or visit the Howatch list home page.

And while you're here, try the Starbridge trivia quiz or The Wheel of Fortune trivia quiz.


The Wheel of Fortune

Subject: Wheel of Fortune rocks! (was: Finished)
Date: Wed, 14 Jun 2000 15:35:42 -0000
From: "Elena"

Obviously some spoiler potential here for The Wheel of Fortune,
but no really huge crucial nasty glaring spoilers... of course
I wouldn't tell you what ***** did to ****** on the ****  :)

Anne wrote:

> Stacy, The Wheel Of Fortune, was the best of all, I think.

I agree - WoF is the *best* of the family sagas, and note this 
doesn't mean it's my favorite. The saga that's stayed with me more 
than any other is actually Sins of the Fathers.

The other day, Martha referred to Devil on Lammas Night as a 
"harbinger of where Howatch was headed as a novelist"; I believe 
that's true of WoF as well. If you read or re-read it after taking 
in the Starbridge books, you get deja vu all over the place. Kester 
raves to Anna about the Christian mystics. Evan the clergyman is 
kind of a Lewis Hall combined with Charley Ashworth. Christianity 
is described at one point as "more intellectually satisfying than 
the occult, more positive than Buddhism, more British than Islam 
and less depressing than psychiatry."
Without being full-on overtly Christian, the book's theme of guilt 
and redemption is unmistakable.

Of course, in order to get to the redemption stage, people first 
have to screw up... and these people certainly do. WoF provides 
deeper, richer psychological portraits of its characters than the 
other sagas do - and the six narrators are very different 
personalities. Robert the cold ambitious rationalist, who 
gets terribly confused when life and emotions don't fit his 
black-and-white categories. Ginevra the flagrantly passionate, 
who's terrified of standing alone. John the divided self, brilliant 
and in command, yet guilt-ridden and grieving. Kester the creative 
escapist, in search of Beauty, Truth, Art and Peace. Harry the 
glittering image, the man of action with a musician's soul. Hal the 
truth-seeking rebel, the mirror who makes things whole. The contrast 
is part of the reading pleasure - each switch to a new viewpoint is 
like plunging into the snow after a sauna, or vice versa. 

WoF has the best-structured plot and the strongest characterisation 
of the sagas, building on the author's accumulated experience. I 
think Howatch really hit her stride from Rich Are Different 
onwards, but especially from WoF. The previous two novels used 
language and cultural references a lot to convey what was happening 
in the characters' minds; WoF keeps this up, but also gets much 
more psychological, producing a real psycho-thriller with a strong 
mystery subplot. It's that special Howatch touch, an intimate 
from-the-inside picture of human minds, with all their ambitions and 
obsessions, delights and regrets. - Obsessions! do these people ever 
have obsessions! And the point illustrated over and over again is 
that none of us lives in a vacuum, all of our actions have 
consequences, they affect other people and we often can't predict 
how. Each character's obsession or grand passion is wonderful and 
engrossing at the same time as it's painful or destructive for 
others: Howatch's skill shows us how wonderful, and how painful.

And the family saga format really makes it possible to see how the 
unhealed hurts of one generation are passed on down the line from 
parents to children. That's what makes John Godwin such a pivotal 
figure - he's crucial in transmitting the pain of his parents and 
grandparents to his son and nephew and grandson. Of course, it's 
not poor John's fault that his father Bobby could never deal with 
the legacy of his youth, but that doesn't stop his son Harry from 
copping the consequences. And the story of Bobby, Ginevra and 
Robert - tragic or what? Yet there's no point at which you can 
point a finger at any character and say: there's the villain, it's 
all their fault. This is a villain-free book, you end up 
empathising with all of them to some extent, which gives more 
emotional impact to the whole tangled mess. (That's part of what 
puts me off Cashelmara: MacGowan is just a one-dimensional nasty. 
The Rich Are Different and Sins of the Fathers also have a clearly 
identifiable "villain", Cornelius, but at least he's fully developed 
and we get to see inside his head. Gotta love/hate him.)

Apart from the six narrators, WoF has so many excellent supporting 
characters that it makes you wish it had 20 narrators and went on 
for many more volumes. Just the highlights of the multitude: 
Bronwen Morgan, John's soulmate; Bobby and Margaret Godwin, who 
kept trying to draw the line but never got over the crisis of their 
youth; the fabulously mercenary Milly Straker and her wardrobe of 
sex toys; the naive, loving, damaged Bella Stourham; swaggering, 
swearing, pig-loving Thomas Godwin, the brat who never grew up; and 
cool Dr. Pam, who keeps reminding me of Lyle.

At this point, I should note that what makes me a Howatch addict - 
the core of what I like about her writing - is that technique of 
switching perspectives, one continuous story with multiple narrators, 
that she's been doing ever since Penmarric. In various Starbridge 
novels there are comments like "truth is multi-faceted" or "how 
little we know of what goes on in other people's lives". Seeing a 
story from alternate viewpoints makes the reader realise how true 
this is. It's a difficult writing technique, but by the time she 
wrote WoF, Howatch was damn good at it. Those six narrators 
complement each other perfectly. And from there she went on to an 
even bolder project: giving each narrator an entire book to 
themselves. The enjoyment of this kept me hooked throughout 
Starbridge, though the Church of England is far removed from my 
background and lifestyle. And WoF shows this style at a similarly 
high level.

As if achieving all of the above weren't difficult enough... the 
plot-structuring skill behind WoF has also incorporated a fairly 
precise transposition of historical events. So far I've identified 
39 real-life historical figures from the 14th century behind the WoF 
characters. (Guess which one's Chaucer.) Being a bit of a medieval 
history fan, I love picking out the parallels. It adds another level 
of enjoyment to the book.

FYI, a straightforward historical novel that covers many of the same 
events as WoF is _Katherine_ by Anya Seton. It's told from the 
perspective of Katherine Swynford (1350-1403), mistress of John of 
Gaunt - in WoF this character is Bronwen. (I first read that book 
when I was 14, several years before I read WoF. And after reading 
about 50 reviews of Katherine on the Amazon site, I realised to my 
delighted horror that I'm a Katherine cliche! Most of the reviews 
start with: I first read Katherine when I was 13/14/15 and now it's 
X decades later and I still re-read it... Ditto. Two people even 
admit to naming their daughters Katherine.)

Well, having run out of steam... and having admitted that this 
isn't my favorite saga... I'll restrain myself from a discussion 
of Sins of the Fathers! Over to other list-people for comments.

Elena

"Hold fast. Stand firm. Soldier on."

Hey, did I get through that entire rant without mentioning Oxmoon? 
Sorry. Oxmoon, Oxmoon, Oxmoon. It's just a house, for God's sake! 
Get a life. :P



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Created by Elena in Tver, Russia.
This page updated on May 5, 2001.
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