The Wheel of Fortune by Susan Howatch

The saga of a Welsh family haunted by submerged passions and unfulfilled desire.

I was hooked on The Wheel of Fortune from the first pages. It’s juicy, lush, psychologically complex, and keenly observed.

The story opens with Robert, scion of the Godwin family, heir to Oxmoon, lusting after his second cousin Ginevra, on the night that she elopes with an Irish rake, Connor Kinsella. When, in pure tragic form, Robert is able to consummate his desire, a chain of events unfolds that scars the family for generations.

Like I said, I was really, really enjoying this book, until I hit Tragedy Fatigue. Now, I adore long books–the longer the better, I often say–but I just couldn’t find it in me to move on to point of view #4 of 6. The story structure started to feel tediously cyclical, and I gave up on page 313. I will give Howatch another try because she’s been so highly recommended, but this is the second of her books that hasn’t really done it for me.

5 thoughts on “The Wheel of Fortune by Susan Howatch”

  1. Started to sound repetitive? Well, that’s the wheel goin’ round–fortune (we would probably say “fate” today) takes one up and down and then up again.

    Having read this one twice, it took twice to catch all the nuances. Howatch is not necessarily an easy read or a quick read–but a fulfilling read for those who stick with it.

  2. I’ve read and enjoyed all Susan Howatch’s big family sagas, and the Wheel of Fortune was definitely the best in my opinion. Fortunately it was the last one I read! I had to read it twice to get the full flavour, but that just shows it’s a great book. Her character drawing is a lot more well-rounded and mature than in her earlier family sagas. I would describe this book as a psychological thriller with a lot of sex thrown in. It clearly shows that a tragedy in a family can and does affect generations a century later.
    The really excellent aspect of Howatch’s novels is her ability to write the story from the point of view of several different characters. She gives each of her characters a separate section in which they continue the story (in the first person) as they themselves see it, which gives a well-balanced picture of the situation. It also prevents the reader from becoming too biased in favour of a certain character, or taking an unfair dislike to another character.
    Also being a lawyer herself Howatch is able to put the legal aspects of certain matters very clearly and accurately.
    However the only thing I really don’t like about Howatch is that she’s very black-and-white about the people of Britain. She ruthlessly divides them into “Celts” and “Anglo-Saxons”, although today’s Britons, including those living a century ago, are such a mixture of all kinds of peoples including Basques, Normans, French and Vikings (whom Howatch conveniently ignores) that it’s perfectly idiotic to refer to them as being either Anglo-Saxon or Celtic. Many English people are of Celtic origin and many Welsh/Cornish/Scots are of Saxon and Viking origin. For example, in “Cashelmara”, Howatch refers to young Ned as “a boy who had nothing but Saxon blood in his veins”. Now this is an absolute tarradiddle, as Ned’s family were of the nobility and had the surname “de Salis” – so like the majority of English nobility, they were clearly of Norman or French origin. I often wonder why Howatch is so out of touch with reality as far as the people of Britain are concerned.

  3. Why don’t you try Penmarric? I believe it’s the first family saga she wrote, and I personally find the Wheel of Fortune a lot better with respect to plot, characters etc but Penmarric is definitely a good read. Cashelmara is another of her family sagas but this is the one I liked least – I found it a bit depressing but don’t let that put you off.
    Howatch has also written two similar mammoth books: The Rich are Different and the Sins of the Fathers. The latter is a sequel to the former. I enjoyed them but they aren’t really family sagas, strictly speaking.

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