WHAT IS IT?
Penmarric is an epic style family saga, showing the life of a property-owning family in Cornwall from Victorian times to the end of the Second World War. It is told from five different points of view, all of them family members, so that you get to see the story from more than just one set of eyes, which makes it a more layered read. There is also an ongoing allegory throughout the book, linking the Penmar/Castallack family with Henry II, his mother, wife, children and mistress, which is quite cleverly done and, as a history enthusiast, helped me understand what the author intended by the writing and characterisation. In my opinion, it also made certain unlikeable characters more likeable as you could understand who they were 'linked' to in history.
A little bit of back story on the history of Henry II and all important to him: His grandfather, William the Conqueror, died without a living son, and named his daughter Matilda as his heir. Many nobles of England were unhappy about having a female ruler, and asked Stephen of Blois, the closest male relation to William the Conqueror, to take the throne, which he did. This split the country into a vicious civil war which was resolved when Stephen named Matilda's son Henry as his heir after his own son Eustace died. Henry II became one of the most powerful men in Europe when he married the ex-wife of the French King, Eleanor of Aquitaine, a powerful landowner in her own right. She went on to give him sons, as did his mistress Rosamund Clifford. If this sounds interesting to you, Sharon Penman has written some excellent historical novels about this period.
Points of view - CHARACTERS
Mark, the Henry II. Mark is a more complicated character and is definitely in shades of grey. Strangely, I didn't like him much when you were reading things through his point of view, but through his sons' he came off OK, I thought.
Janna, the Eleanor of Aquitaine. I didn't like Janna much, but I could empathise with her. She was older than Mark, a widow and of a different social class when they married, but she seemed strong. She had her flaws, definitely (I am incredibly glad she wasn't MY mother! How can you let your own children KNOW you have favourites? Beyond me!) but overall came off fairly sympathetic, if not totally likeable.
Adrian, who represents Henry II's favourite bastard son. I liked Adrian when reading through his point of view, but didn't like him so much through others' - he came off a lot more priggish and self-righteous, whereas in his own point of view, he was just a confused little boy you could empathise with!
Philip, who is Richard (the Lionheart) in this allegory. Hated him through Mark's, Janna's and Adrian's points of view, didn't mind him when you saw things through his own eyes. He was his mother's favourite and spoilt by her, but had a very unhappy childhood and an equally messed up adulthood. It is very hard not to feel sympathy for him towards the end.
Jan-Yves, who represents John 'Lackland' - later King John I. I rather liked Jan-Yves, mostly because of his selfishness and pragmatism - obviously nicer in a fictional character than a real one!! He was a lot of fun to read and took himself much less seriously than the other characters.
As I have mentioned, it is loosely based around the life of Henry II, with Penmarric, an old family estate, representing England. Mark's mother Maud had a brother who dies leaving her father brokenhearted. Instead of leaving Penmarric to her, he betrayed her by leaving it to a cousin, Giles. Although a fairly nasty character, Maud was certainly portrayed as stubborn and strong, and instead of accepting this, fought for her, and her son's, inheritance.
When Giles' own son dies, he accepts Mark as his heir. Mark falls in love with a poorer, older widow of a farmer, Janna. Of different social classes, different ages and different experiences, they struggle to make the marriage work. The story follows their disastrous marriage, and the lives of three children - Adrian, Mark's son from his mistress, Rose, and Philip and Jan-Yves, his legitimate sons from Janna. The book looks at life from Victorian times to the Second World War - through the eyes of people living and fighting. It covers tin-mining and miners in Philip's section as well as his acceptance of his sexuality. It looks into aspects of sibling love and rivalry, and complicated family relationships.
It was certainly engrossing, but I can usually tell if I have enjoyed a book by knowing if I plan to sell it on amazon or keep it to read in a few years. I'm selling this one. I can't put my finger on what I don't like about it. At first I found the shifting points of view jarring - you just get into one voice and all of a sudden you have to see through the eyes of a new person - but I got into that and I do think it was a good tool to use as you get a more 'objective' idea of what is happening. I actually think none of the characters were likeable enough for me, and the story wasn't 'epic' enough. I wanted to see the Trenches in World War I, I wanted to know more about the great historical events of the time, whereas you just saw the family stuff. Normally this wouldn't bother me but it seemed to here and I can only conclude that I didn't like the characters enough. It was an interesting read though, and well written, and would be good to take on holiday, especially if you're going to Cornwall!
Penmarric is a family saga written by Susan Howatch. This was her first
family based saga which the setting is in Cornwall. It was written in 1971 it tells us how the family called the Castallacks relates to each other in this amazing house Penmarric in this Cornish village where tin mining was in full flourish and the family become wealthy because of the tin mine industry. It spans from nineteenth and twentieth century and how the family evolves during this period. It begins with Mark Castallack bringing his bride home to Penmarric and her name is Janna, he was a very sensitive person and its story is spread over three generations and their battles of obtaining the big house Penmarric.It was interesting to read about how the characters in the book related to each other not always in a positive away. I found this a very compelling read once you pick it up you just want to read it to the end. It is very well written and the way Susan Howatch writes certainly grips you and feel has if you know each of the characters very well particularly when you get to the end of the book