Tuesday, 8 January 2013


Author: Susan Howatch
Genre: Historical Fiction
Type: e-book copy from NetGalley
Published: October 2012
First Published: 1974
Publisher: Open Road Media
Source: NetGalley
First Line: "There were two subjects I neer discussed: my dead wife and Cashelmara."

Synopsis: Cashelmara is a large estate in the rugged and untamed Irish wilderness and has been in the de Salis family for generations.  The current owner is Edward de Salis and although he spends most of his time in London, he has always called Cashelmara home.

After his wife and mother of his many children dies, Edward becomes extremely lonely.  He takes a trip to New York to visit distant relatives, the Marriotts, in the hopes of raising his spirits.  While there he meets 17 year old Marguerite Marriott.  He surprises himself by falling in love with Marguerite, who is young enough to be his own daughter, and brings her back to Ireland as his wife. 

Once they arrive at Cashelmara Marguerite discovers that marriage and the family estate are not what she expected.  She quickly finds that she has married into a very dysfunctional family who is bitterly divided.

Cashelmara is a historical saga told using six viewpoints of three generations of the de Salis family -- Edward and Marguerite, Patrick and Sarah, Maxwell and young Ned -- detailing their turbulent lives. 

My Thoughts:  This is an epic saga following the lives and tribulations of the de Salis family.  What made this book stand out for me, in amongst the many historical fiction books that I've read, is that the tale is told from six points of view.  Six points of view are a lot and could easily become muddled and confusing but Ms Howatch deals with this in a very interesting way. 

The storyline, while linear, is started by Edward telling the tale.  He then passes the proverbial torch to Marguerite and she takes over the story and so on.  It's quite a wonderful way for the reader to get a better sense of what various characters are thinking while not rehashing what's already happened in the book.  I actually found my initial attitude towards certain characters change as I saw the story through their eyes.  Each of the characters had many sides to them which I appreciated. That said, I can't say that any one character stood out for me but they all had their own part to play in the saga.

Please note that this is no light and carefree romp through the Irish countryside.  It's more of a gothic soap opera with its romance, retribution, drama, abuse and even murder and has a very dark and rather depressing tone.  One of the characters even goes a little too dark for my tastes and began to come off as more of an evil moustache-twisting caricature towards the end of the book. 

One of my favourite parts of the book were the descriptions of the Irish countryside as well as learning more about the historical backdrop (ie. the after effects of Ireland's Great Famine).  But Ms Howatch didn't allow the tumultuous historical backdrop to overtake the storyline which I appreciated. While this is a historical fiction read, it's much more of a character driven plot.  Keeping the characters and storyline in the forefront is not an easy thing to do when you're tackling a lot of various topics all in one book -- including Ireland's right to rule themselves, emigration, Irish famine/poverty, political unrest, adultery, financial ruin ...  There was a lot going on and while it was entertaining I did feel that the mystery aspect (family secrets and all) as well as the overall energy of the book was a bit lacking.

What Ms Howatch definitely didn't lack was emotion. Unfortunately, for me I tended to have an overall depressed feeling about the book. The setting and the circumstances seemed very drab and depressing ... all the time. There were some characters that I liked (Marguerite) but some, like Sarah, who just aggravated me with her poor choices. I guess feeling something (even anger at a character) is better than feeling nothing, right?

While there were some slow parts in this large book I did find it to be an easy and enjoyable read.  It was a good page turner of a story but it just didn't grab me as much as I would have hoped.  I think that the overall depressing feeling that settled over much of the book put a damper on my overall opinion of this book.

My Rating: 3.5/5 stars

Note: My sincere thanks to Open Road Media and NetGalley for providing me with this complimentary e-book copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.


The Rush Blog said...

Of the three family saga novels - "PENMARIC", "CASHELMARA" and "THE WHEEL OF FORTUNE"; "CASHELMARA" has always struck me as the most depressing, due to the Patrick and Sarah de Salis marriage. But I still consider it first rate. I don't know if I would view its ending as happy, considering that the de Salis family story continues with the Godwin family in "THE WHEEL OF FORTUNE".

Laurie@The Baking Bookworm said...

Cashelmara wasn't a happy read but I agree that it's still a great read. I need to pick up the next book in the series before I start to forget the characters.

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