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Review: Penmarric, by Susan Howatch

Pages: 704

Original date of publication: 1971

My edition: 1990 (Ballantine)

Why I decided to read: I heard about it through the members at HFO

How I acquired my copy:, January 2010

Penmarric is a novel that is mostly based upon the Plantagenets—specifically, Henry II, Eleanor, and their children. This novel takes the Penmar/Castellack/Parrish families from 1890 up through the end of WWII. Penmarric is the family estate (loosely correlating to the English throne); and the story is told from the POV of five of them: Mark Castellack (i.e., Henry), his wife Janna (Eleanor), Adrian (Henry’s illegitimate son Geoffrey), Philip (Richard) and Jan Ives (John).

The story follows that of the Plantagenets closely. If you’re familiar with the story of Henry and his family, you might think you know what will happen here—but Susan Howatch adds quite a new dimension to the story of the Castellacks and their family home. I love multi-generational stories of families and old houses, and this one was no exception. I loved watching these characters grow and mature over the course of more than fifty years. Each of the narrators is unique, and tells their side of the story from a different vantage point. They are all very realistic and make mistakes, but that makes them all the more relatable. Janna/Eleanor disappears after she’s said her piece, but what can you reasonably expect when Eleanor spent a good portion of her life imprisoned?

I was a little disappointed in this book in one way, however; the conflict between Mark and his sons wasn’t quite as pronounced as Henry’s was with his. Still, there’s an incredible amount of tension, and I enjoyed watching things play out. I never really knew what was going to happen. I loved the authors descriptions of Cornwall, too—this is the kind of book that makes a reader want to visit the place described in it! While not “great” historical fiction, this is the kind of engrossing novel that I read in great big chunks at a time. I can’t wait to read some of the other books by Susan Howatch that I’ve got on the TBR list—this book is my first by her and definitely not the last! Definitely recommended if you enjoy big, sprawling family sagas.


Amy said…
I recently bought a used copy of this and am now pushing it up in the TBR queue. I also love multi-generational stories and family sagas, so this sounds right up my alley.

Thanks for the fab review!!
This book is SO on my list to read!

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