Cashelmara by Susan Howatch

Cashelmara by Susan HowatchSummary: A multi-generational family drama based around the Irish estate Cashelmara.

Cashelmara was originally published in 1974. It is a good example of the importance of the digital book market. Open Road is a publisher that mostly focuses on former bestsellers that are now out of print.

After reading Susan Howatch’s Church of England Series this spring, I have decided to pick up anything written by Susan Howatch when it goes on sale.

I was surprised that Cashelmara was told in a very similar format to the Church of England series (just compressed into one very long book.) Both have six sections, each with a different person narrating the story from their perspective.

 In Cashelmara the story starts with Edward, the patriarch of the family and the one who has made the family great. He is a Barron, an important member of the House of Lords. He owns an English estate and a London home in addition to the vast estate of Cashelmara. But while he is still healthy and in the prime of his life, his wife and four of his children have died. The book starts right before he meets and falls in love with Marguerite, a young, distant cousin of his former wife from New York.

The story then switches to Marguerite’s perspective, then Edward’s son Patrick, Patrick’s wife, then Maxwell Drummond and ends with Patrick’s son Ned. The sections are titled, Duty, Fidelity, Loyalty, Passion, Ambition and Revenge.

This is a long historical fiction book, nearly 700 pages and I spent most of the week while I was at the beach reading it. It does not have the brilliance of the Church of England series. Howatch is a very good story teller. And the characters are the central focus of the book.

The main plot, which does not really show up until nearly 2/3 of the way through the book is very much a soap opera. The problem with this method is that it is not clear to me what the first half of the book is really doing in the book. It gives background. But do you need more than 300 pages to just give background? And the main plot seems wildly different from the early character given marriage drama that is the root of the first half of the book.

The characters are interesting, but I wish Howatch has done more with Marguerite and picked a different plot. I am glad I read it, but it is a far less important book than the Church of England series.

I am mixed about whether I should give a content warning or not. There are several murders (although who does some of them is a bit unclear). There is some graphic descriptions of pretty brutal rape and some other sexual content. But this not romance or erotic book. They are part of the plot and not nearly as descriptive as many other books.

(I have been reading more English history and I have been seeing the inspiration. Roughly this is based on the Kings Edward I, II and III. I should probably go back and read it Cashelmara again to see if I like it more with a better understanding of the historical inspiration.)

Cashelmara by Susan Howatch Purchase Links: Kindle Edition

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One Comment

I have much to say about your criticism of one of the great Gothic novels Cashelmara. First, you must look at an author who developed her style from one of her first books. Only Penmarric was 1st. She clearly develops her characters so that the story can progress. Marguarite is actually the main character. She is the one who is kind to Patrick, who was clearly an abused child. Edward and all the characters are reincarnations of the kings of England. The development of their characters is deeply shadowed by the terrible injustices and poverty of the politics of Ireland.
That being said, her church of England series is largely a culmination of all her other works. Although Cashalmara is a bit dated, she was quite young when it was written, and certainly was a masterpiece and a best seller. There is a large religious element which she carries through all her books. Certainly in Penmarric,. There is always one character that becomes a clergyman.In addition, there are frigid women who discover unbridled passion they did not know existed. We see this in Sarah. She didn’t know Patrick was gay. She just thought he was cold and ill. Certainly his alcoholism is a symptom., not a cause. With each gothic novel Ms. Howatch develops her style and hones her storytelling technique. In my opinion, her masterpiece is the Wheel of Fortune, which is by far her best epic story, once again based on Kings of England. Howatch is a talented historian, and knows her characters well. Her next novel The Rich are Different is really where she advances her style and character development. If you read the book, you know these people. You would know them at a cocktail party. I read Wheel of Fortune and The rich are Different every year of my life. It becomes so clear to me with each reading, that her sequels are brilliant.
Which brings us to The Church Series. The Church series start in Penmarric, continues in Wheel, and culminates in TRAD. The entire gothic series is an exercise in her culmination of The Church Series. You are also witnessing her own epiphany and conversion to Anglo Catholicism which incorporates mysticism to practical life. She holds a million dollar chair in theology at Cambridge. That being said, read all the Gothic novels in order, and take notes. My beloved copy of Wheel of Fortune was lost, and I had years of notes and underlining in it. I think I will repurchase if its on kindle and also TRAD.
Jan Abraham

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