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Set against the starkly beautiful landscape of Cornwall, PENMARRIC is the totally enthralling saga of a family divided against itself. At the center of the novel is the great mansion called Penmarric. It is to Penmarric that Mark Castallack, a proud, strange, and sensitive man, brings his bride Janna--the first act in a tempestuous drama that was to span three generations....

704 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1971

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About the author

Susan Howatch

70 books480 followers
Susan Howatch (b. 1940) is a British novelist who has penned bestselling mysteries, family sagas, and other novels. Howatch was born in Surrey, England. She began writing as a teen and published her first book when she moved to the United States in 1964. Howatch found global success first with her five sagas and then with her novels about the Church of England in the twentieth century. She has now returned to live in Surrey.

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5 stars
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 322 reviews
Profile Image for Ahmad Sharabiani.
9,566 reviews56k followers
March 28, 2022
Penmarric, Susan Howatch

Susan Howatch is a British author. Her writing career has been distinguished by family saga-type novels. Penmarric, Set against the starkly beautiful landscape of Cornwall, Penmarric is the totally enthralling saga of a family divided against itself. At the center of the novel is the great mansion called Penmarric. It is to Penmarric that Mark Castallack, a proud, strange, and sensitive man, brings his bride Janna--the first act in a tempestuous drama that was to span three generations.... Originally published: 1971.

تاریخ نخستین خوانش: روز بیست و دوم ماه نوامبر سال2003میلادی

عنوان: پنماریک : تنی ها و ناتنی ها؛ نویسنده: سوزان هوواچ؛ مترجم ابراهیم یونسی؛ تهران، نگاه، سال1381، در936ص؛ شابک9643510751؛ موضوع: داستانهای نویسندگان بریتانیا - سده20م

پنماریک، نام عمارت و قلعه ای کهن است، و داستان، روایت سرگذشت خانواده‌ ای اشرافی است، که اعضای آن، همه کمر به دشمنی با یکدیگر بسته‌ اند، مرکز رویدادهای داستان، همین «پنماریک» است، که بیشتر رخدادها در آن می‌گذرند؛ رمان در واقع زندگانی سه نسل از افراد یک خانواده را بازگشایی میکند

تاریخ بهنگام رسانی 29/12/1399هجری خورشیدی؛ 07/01/1401هجری خورشیدی؛ ا. شربیانی
April 9, 2021

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When people think of the 70s, they generally think of bell bottom trousers, Farrah Fawcett hair, or disco. Me? I think of chunky family sagas. Before the bodice-ripper craze of the 1980s, Gothic romances and multi-tiered family epics were in, and PENMARRIC is the perfect example of what a prized specimen of the genre looks like. Based on the lives of Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine and their many children, PENMARRIC is set in late 19C and early 20C Cornwall, revolving around a crumbling Cornish estate and petty manners of inheritance, and the bickering chains of family lineage that twine and intertwine in numerous and surprising ways.

Mark Castellack becomes an inadvertent heir to the Penmarric estate after having it long be denied him. He isn't a Penmar, though-- at least, not by marriage. But his mother, it seems, might have some personal grievances involved that go well beyond the matter of contesting the will. His father, Laurence, is also a Castellack, an intellectual and moral man, but after Giles Penmar makes Mark his heir, their relationship suffers-- especially when Mark's promiscuity begins to dive out of control.

After an affair with a gently-bred woman named Rose that ends about how you would expect, Mark marries a woman named Janna and takes her to Penmarric. We get to read the book from both Mark and Janna's POVs and I loved seeing their story from both their eyes. How Mark's infatuation with Janna borders on violent obsession and how little respect he clearly has for women, especially when they behave in ways contrary to how he expects and tumbles from his pedestal. Janna, on the other hand, is a woman of low birth who had to struggle and strive to make a living. At first, she blossoms in Mark's harsh glare, but after a while, the wonder fades, and so does their romance.

The next chunk of the book is told from their children-- both Mark's children of his marriage with Janna, and the ones he had out of wedlock with Rose. We follow these offspring from childhood to adulthood, from petty rivalries, to the parts they played in WWI and WWII, their affairs and betrayals, their battles and rivalries over inheritance, their grievances, their secrets, their day-to-day lives. Honestly, if you had told me that Susan Howatch could sit me down and have me eagerly read about a character obsessed with the rigors of tending a mine and mining, I would have laughed, but then I read this book and I ended up being fascinated with the concept of tin mining.

One thing I loved about this book is how Susan Howatch doesn't concern herself with moral highhandedness. The characters behave in often unscrupulous or unlikable ways, and she lets them do it. This is not a morality play. These characters come across as painfully human in their flaws, and honestly, considering that this book was published in the early 1970s, her attitudes towards a lot of concepts like LGBT+ matters and abortion come across as shockingly progressive. I love how each chapter opens up with quotes taken from history books to let you know which character and historical event she is doing an allegory for because there is a HUMONGOUS cast of characters in here and it was hard to keep in mind who was who, let alone which Plantagenet they represented.

I love reading about Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine so it was really exciting to find out that this was an allegory to that time period (I honestly didn't know that when I started reading it until I checked out some of the other reviews). This book is LOOOOONG but I read through it surprisingly quickly and one of the things I had forgotten about reading long books is how immensely satisfying it is when you finish them, like tucking into a multi-course meal. I loved this book and can't wait to read her other one, CASHELMARA, which is about the Edwards (I, II, and III).

If you enjoy chonky historical fiction about gloomy people living in gloomy estates, this is the perfect book for you.

4.5 to 5 stars
Profile Image for Alex is The Romance Fox.
1,461 reviews1,081 followers
February 10, 2017
I love family sagas and Susan Howatch has written some amazing books about feuding families, intrigue, greed and complicated love and I discovered her writing when I first read this book years ago.

An enthralling story that spans 3 generations of the Casttallack and how their obsession with owning Penmarric,
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a mansion situated in the stark and beautiful area of Cornwall,
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causes the family to be divided for ever.

The characters are great and liked the way the story is told through the different members of the family.

I have read this book a few times and when I read it again I enjoyed it just as much.
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I will probably read it again someday. It’s that kind of book.

PS....Having read my initial review and comments from fellow GR friends...it's brought this magical story back to me all over again.......I think I might just read it again...soon.
Profile Image for Carol She's So Novel꧁꧂ .
785 reviews564 followers
August 22, 2020
I was ten years old when I first saw the inheritance and twenty years old when I first saw Janna Roslyn, but my reaction to both was identical. I wanted them.

Idly browsing through books at my town's equivalent of Little Free Library - how could I resist an opening paragraph like that?

Turned out the opening was the best thing about this bloated, overblown book, which is loosely based on the Plantagenet royal house.

This book had two things that I normally hate in fiction.

» It was more than 450 pages long. (which I did know before I started - duh! )
» Multiple POV. At least this book didn't jump back and forth between different characters' heads.

These weren't the reasons this book became a DNF at around 46%, but the following are;

Most of the characters are horrible people, some characters are introduced only to disappear, leaving me wondering what their importance was in the first place.

For whole chapters nothing much happens and some of the narrative was wooden.

As you would expect in a book set in Victorian & Edwardian times (It finishes in WWII, but I had baled before that) there is slut shaming and racism, but while there is no reason to believe that the author shared these attitudes, it didn't make the read any more enjoyable.

While I think this book would have worked far better if told in the third person, I probably still wouldn't have liked it. It is just too long and overall, just too dull.

Profile Image for Misfit.
1,637 reviews276 followers
January 31, 2009
Penmarric begins as Mark Castallack and his mother Maud, cheated out of their inheritance by a scheming relative, wage a years long court battle to regain possession of the lands of Penmar and the great house that sits upon it, Penmarric. After twelve years and almost losing hope, fate takes a turn as the wastrel son of the current owner dies and a very young Mark is named heir to all of it. Mark marries Janna, who is ten years older, and has a bit of a surprise in store for him from a past relationship – but then Mark has one or two surprises for Janna as well. Building their family dynasty as the new owners of Penmarric, Janna and Mark slowly drift apart until an accidental meeting forever changes their lives, although a new one also begins as a result of that violent night.

Told in five "books", each one in the first person POV of Mark, Janna, and three of Mark's sons, the family's story takes the reader from Cornwall of the late 19C into the 20C through WWII as the next generation of Castallacks battle for ownership of the Penmar estate and the power that comes with it. The middle of the book was bit slow at times, although I _loved_ the last two books telling Phillip's and Jan's stories and the always volatile relationship between the two brothers and their constant battle to be named heir.

If you like those big fat family sagas set in the past with feuding back-biting siblings I'd definitely give this one a whirl - although this one has quite a twist that you don't normally see in a book - the Castallack family and their story parallels that of Henry II, Eleanor, Richard I (the Lionheart) and the always delightfully evil King John. Ultimately, that is half the fun of this book for those reasonably familiar with Henry and his devil's brood - can you pick out which of Mark's sons are young Hal, Geoffrey, Richard and John? Henry's fate after the ultimate betrayal by his sons? Spot Rosamund Clifford, the illegitimate sons Geoffrey and William Longspee? And best of all is how the author resolves the mystery that still haunts us to this day - the ultimate fate of young Arthur, John's rival claimant to the throne of England.

All in all a pretty darn good read, and I plan on trying a few more from this author. Apparently she continues her “Plantagenet” saga with two more books, Cashelmara and Wheel of Fortune dealing with the three Edwards. I understand John of Gaunt is in the latter and I very much hope she throws Katherine Swynford in there as well. I’m sorely torn between four and five stars so I’ll call it 4.5 rounded up to 5.
Profile Image for Jane.
820 reviews610 followers
September 13, 2013
I fell in love with ‘Penmarric’ years ago, when I was still at school, from the very first sentences.

“I was ten years old when I first saw Penmarric and twenty years old when I first saw Janna Roslyn, but my reaction to both was identical.”

I had to read on, and I was gripped from start to finish. I read every other book by Susan Howatch I could find. I liked some more than others, but all have something to recommend them. But my favourites were the three big books that reset stories from mediaeval history in the more recent past. ‘Penmarric,’ ‘Cashelmara,’ and’ The Wheel of Fortune.’

And most of all I loved ‘Penmarric’.

Mark Castellack’s mother, Maud, had one ambition – one obsession – that she fought for with every weapon at her disposal. To regain Penmarric, the family eastate that her father had left to a distant cousin rather that his only surviving child. Because she was a girl. Maud won in the end. Mark inherited Penmarric. But her victory came at a price.

The story is told in six volumes, by five different narrators: Mark Castellack, his wife, one of his illegitimate sons, and two of his legitimate sons who would, in their turn, be master of Penmarric. Sixty years pass – from the later years of Queen Victoria’s reign to the end of World War II full of every kind of family drama you could imagine.

In the wrong hands it would be a mess, but Susan Howatch made it work.

The foundations are strong: the story that has been set is that of Henry II; his wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine; and his sons, among them, Richard the Lionheart and King John. History records that their relationships were troubled, that when the king tried to divide his kingdom his wife and sons opposed him, that she was sent into exile, and that they continued to intrigue, against each other and against their father.

It’s a wonderful plot, and the resetting is brilliant. Each chapter is headed with pertinent quotations from serious historical works, and the story picks up the outline and many details without ever seeming tied or compromised. But it doesn’t matter at all if you don’t know the history, because ‘Penmarric’ more that stands up in its own right, as a wonderful, dark, historical family saga.

The characters were wonderful; real, three-dimensional human beings. I understood their motivations, their ambitions, their hopes, their dreams, their fears, and I appreciated that life and experience changed them over the years. Though not always for the better. They were infuriating, in many cases they were dislikeable, but they were fascinating.

I’m trying not to give away too many details and not to pay favourites but I must: Janna’s journey from farmer’s widow, through a troubled marriage, to a classic matriarch was wonderful; I really took to Phillip, who was a difficult child but grew into a man of strong principles, determined to follow his own path; and I was charmed by Jan-Yves, who was a spoiled brat of a child, but worked things out and grew up eventually.

And then there’s the setting. Cornwall, and my particular part of Cornwall. I’m pleased to report that Susan Howatch gets it right, and she brought the world that I live in, in the days of my grandparents and great grandparents, to life so vividly; the people, the places, the traditional Cornish industries, everything was caught perfectly, and pulled into the heart of the story.

Everything came together beautifully: story, characters and setting. And the style worked beautifully. Five voices told the story, simply and directly; those voices were distinctive, and they all rang true.

‘Penmarric’ is a hefty book – more than 700 pages – but I read it quickly, because I was caught up from start to finish, and I always wanted to know what would happen next, just how events would play out. And I would have been quite happy for it to go on much longer, and the ending did seem a little abrupt. Though at least I could check what should have happened next against real history…

It’s not perfect – there are dips in the story, the tone is quite heavy a lot of the time, and important lessons are never learned – but I love it regardless.
Profile Image for Anna.
430 reviews46 followers
January 10, 2015
I loved Cashelmara (4 stars) and The Wheel of Fortune (5 stars), and was really looking forward to Penmarric, another in Howatch's series paralleling the lives of the infamous Plantagenets. Sadly though it missed on every level, from the weak characterisations to the rambling storytelling. How can a tale based on the dynastic Henry II, Eleanor of Aquitaine and their Devil's Brood feel so flat, so empty, so dull? Where was the passion, the scheming, the treachery?

Had I been reading it alone, I'd have given up after struggling to the half way point, but this was a buddy-read with my good friend Jemidar and we persevered together, slogging through the worst of it, hoping that things would improve; they eventually did, in the form of the final section which is based on Bad King John. I was glad I made it to this part as it gave glimpses of previous Howatch works, but although this part saved the book from being a 1 star turkey, I can give it no more than 2 very disappointed and worn-out stars. After Cashelmara and The Wheel of Fortune, I just don't know what happened here.

Profile Image for Jemidar.
211 reviews147 followers
August 10, 2016

Really more like 2.5 stars.

I had high expectations for this book and thought I had everything I needed for a great reading experience:

1. A book by an author who I had previously read and loved. Check.
2. A story and characters based on the lives of the 12th century's favourite dysfunctional family--Henry II of England, Eleanor of Aquitaine and their devil's brood. Check.
3. Wet, cold weather and a 700+ page chunkster to snuggle in with. Check.
4. And Anna, my reading buddy, to share the fun with. Check.

So what happened? I have absolutely no idea! Was this author really the same one who wrote the fabulous The Wheel of Fortune? I wish I could say it wasn't, but it was.

This wasn't a bad book as such as Howatch can certainly string her sentences together and her writing style is quite good, but the dullness was unrelenting. I'm still baffled by how someone can manage to make Henry and Eleanor seem so dull. I'd have thought it impossible. Till now. Where was the passion, intrigue and treachery? Somehow, for 700+ pages I never felt it. And there's nothing worse than slogging away at 700+ pages for little or no payback. Meh just doesn't cut it.

So why in the end did I decide on two and a half rounded up to three stars? And not just a plain old two stars? Because towards the end there was a section that was a pastiche of letters to a character serving overseas from various members of his family that was cleverly done and lifted the whole tone towards the end of the book. I just wish the whole book had been like that.

A final word of warning, you will find out more about tin mining in Cornwall than you will ever want to know within the pages of this book. I know I did.

Buddy read with Anna, whose company made it possible for me to get to the end of this monster. I couldn't have done it on my own, so thank you :).
Profile Image for Ann-Marie "Cookie M.".
1,077 reviews120 followers
March 28, 2021
Read so long ago, back in my theater days, late 1970's, backstage at the Civic Auditorium in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Did anything from this book end up in the legend of the ghost of the civic we were creating? Do the tales of that haunting still exist today?
We were awful.
Profile Image for JudiAnne.
414 reviews55 followers
September 24, 2015
In the late 1800s, Mark inherits the family manor, Penmarric, in Cornwall, England. He and Jana fall in love and he asks her to marry him but she is reluctant since she is several years older. As she feared, after marriage and seven children, they drift apart when Janna finds out that Mark has another household with his mistress and two illegitimate children. The marriage spirals downward and it is a vicious tug of war from then on. However, Mark and Jana are only the supporting cast of characters. The novel is actually about five young men as they grow into adulthood and their relations with each other and their father and mother.

I really enjoyed this epic novel that loosely parallels the Plantagenet family, Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine. It is a deep and moving story about marriage, love, adultery, vindictiveness, and the effects these actions of Mark (Henry) and Jana (Eleanor) have on their children.

As always, Susan Howatch’s talent for superb complex characterization, written in family drama, is the center point of the novel. It is also her first novel and there were many more later, including the popular Starbridge Series, a history of the Church of England. I’m planning on reading these six books… one day.
Profile Image for Littlebookworm.
218 reviews70 followers
November 13, 2020
Mark Castallack falls in love with Penmarric the moment he first sets eyes upon the gothic mansion on the Cornish tin coast, determined that one day it shall belong to him, just as he later determines that the beautiful widowed Janna will also one day be his. Spanning across five decades or so from the late Victorian era to the 1940s, Penmarric follows the rise and fall of the Castallacks, through their joys and loves, jealousies and rivalries.

My first read from Howatch, I was drawn to this book by comparisons to Poldark, and certainly I can appreciate the similarities. Both are set against the backdrop of the wild and rugged Cornish mining coast, and both are sprawling family sagas, filled with romance and betrayals and bitter feuds.

The book spans over a fairly lengthy time frame, changing narrator fives times, starting with the point of view of Mark and ending with his youngest son Jan's point of view. Overall I thought this worked well, and it was interesting to get each of these five principle characters' perspectives, as I found myself as a reader often changing my opinions about them once I was privy to their inner monologues and thought processes, and was better able to understand their side of the story.

It did sometimes take a little while to settle into a new character's perspective, and some of the narrators were more immediately relatable to me than others, but ultimately I did get attached to all five characters, despite their faults, and it has to be said that none of these characters were perfect, indeed some were more far from it than others, and could at times behave pretty detestably, but I think a gifted storyteller is able to make a character appealing despite their faults, and perhaps even because of them. Ultimately I found myself able to understand all these characters' insecurities, and how these often shaped how they acted.

One disadvantage of the change in narratorship was that I did at times find myself curious to be privy to the inner monologue of a prior narrator at different times of the story, in order to better grasp a given situation, and why they acted as they did, perhaps most especially with regards to Mark's 'falling out of love' with Jana, just because he had always felt so strongly about her before. Granted their relationship had always been tempestuous, but we leave Mark's narratorship at a point where I still found it hard to believe he would ever leave Janna, and so I would have been interested as to why he ultimately chose Rose. Similarly we leave Janna's perspective at a traumatic time in her life, and it is a while before we see her again in Philip's narratorship, such that I was curious as to how she coped in these times where she was effectively estranged from her children.

There are a whilst host of other interesting characters beyond the five principle narrators, some of whom seemed to live colourful lives of their own that the reader wasn't as privy too, such that they probably could have had their own section, (and it might have been nice to have another female narrator other than Janna), however, the book was already a pretty hefty length such that I think ultimately the right characters were chosen for the story's logical progression over time.
In many ways Penmarric itself is the book's constant character, and is central to the story, a symbol of sorts.

I was also interested in Howarth's use of quotes from historians at the beginning of each chapter relating to the first Plantagenets, and it certainly seemed that some of the characters were loosely based on this family, for instance Mark as Henry II, Philip as Richard and Jan as John. I really enjoyed this aspect and it has stirred my interest to perhaps better acquaint myself with this period of history in more detail.

Overall I thought this was a masterfully crafted story that I enjoyed reading and savouring at my leisure. The book had a very strong sense of place and time, and I liked the intricacies of the characters and their complex relationships with each other, which quite often had tragic undertones, but also had some genuinely touching moments, for instance I really liked the mother-son relationship between Janna and Jan in the end. I will certainly be interested to read more of Howatch's work.
Profile Image for Morana Mazor.
342 reviews73 followers
December 7, 2019
Već sam spominjala da se volim "vratiti" nekim (davno) pročitan, kultnim, knigama, pa i sad čitam jednu takvu- "Dvorac Penmarric", Susan Howatch.
Radnja trilogije (izdanje Zora, Zagreb, 1975.). odvija se krajem 19./ poč. 20.st; riječ je o obiteljskoj sagi, pratimo tri generacije čiji su životi povezani s dvorcem iz naslova , 🏰 a koji se nalazi u prekrasnom Cornwallu. Ako ste ljubitelji povijesnih romana/serija (tipa "Poldark"), onda bi vam se ovo moglo (jaaako) svidjeti.
Profile Image for Mary.
102 reviews
March 7, 2016
Odd book. Maybe it's supposed to be a bodice-ripper or an epic, or an epic bodice-ripper. But I found it tiresome, the characters less than likable and the historical settings more an attempt for Susan Howatch to appear erudite than useful for the plot. I did like the Plantagenet foreshadowing for each chapter, however.
Profile Image for Parisa Bookworm.
76 reviews62 followers
November 20, 2015
داستان خانواده ای از زبان افراد مختلف اون خانواده!
تو سبک کتاب های کلاسیک
بدون چیز عجیب و غریبی توش
و خود پنماریک هم قلعه ای که دست به دست تو خانواده می چرخه
با این حال خیلب روان و راحت پیش میره
ترجمه هم خوب بود غیر یه سری کلمات عجیب و غریب که یهو به کار برده میشد
مثل الله اکبر یا لا اله الله
Profile Image for Philip.
282 reviews49 followers
January 12, 2010
First read this in 1972, then again in the mid-80s, by which time Howatch had also written CASHELMARA, THE RICH ARE DIFFERENT, SINS OF THE FATHERS and THE WHEEL OF FORTUNE.

I've just un-boxed my copy and set it on my TBR pile - I think a re-read will be fun. I remember it as a very engrossing story, though when I first read it I had no idea who the characters were inspired by, though Howatch begins each chapter with quotes from historical works - her game here and in others was to take historical characters and put them in another time-frame, so in PENMARRIC we have Henry II and Eleanor of Acquitaine (think Peter O'Toole and Katharine Hepburn in THE LION IN WINTER!) transported to Cornwall in the late 19th/early 20th centuries. Instead of the Crown of England, it's the great estate of Penmarric that's at stake here. She established here the format she used in the subsequent novels already cited, that of sequential narrators, each of whom play a significant role in the story moves the story along until the next character takes over.

Howatch is a gifted storyteller who wrote several 'gothic romances' prior to publishing PENMARRIC, and the very gothic-style phrase "I was just" apppears many times throughout her novels ("I was just setting down my teacup when..." "I was just wondering whether he'd ever appear when..."

01/11/10: I thoroughly enjoyed my re-read of PENMARRIC - it even got me to re-watch THE LION IN WINTER. Despite its 735-page length, PENMARRIC is an engrossing and surprisingly fast read.
Profile Image for r.
129 reviews73 followers
February 9, 2015
ابتدا بگویم قلم نویسنده بسیار روان واز ان بهتر ترجمه بسیار فصیح استاد ابراهیم یونسی بود ..رمان داستان پرکشش وجذاب زندگی سه نسل از افراد یک خانواده اشرافی است .داستان از سال 1890با داستان مارک اغاز میشود وتا سال 1945ادامه می یابد .البته با شیوه ای جدید ومتفاوت از اثار کلاسیک است. وشخصیت های پرداخته شده ومستقل در داستان بسیارند .محور داستان عمارتی است قدیمی با نام پنماریک که بیشتر وقایع داستان در ان میگذرد .پنماریک رمانی است جذاب وخواندنی پر از شخصیت های زنده با شیوه داستانسرایی بسیار عالی. به قول مترجم این کتاب 4 ماه در صدر پرفروشترین کتابهای نیویورک تایمز جای داشته است .نکته جالب در کل رمان این است که همه شخصیت های رمان دنبال عدالت هستند البته انها فقط عدالت را برای خودشان میخواهند تا به قول معروف حق شان را بگیرند .حقی که همان عمارت قدیمی وپوسیده پنماریک است اما گرفتن حق هر کدامشان با زایل شدن حق دیگری محقق میشود .در کل رمان پنماریک طعنه میزند به اشرافیت پوسیده ونظام طبقاتی جامعه انگلیسی در پایان قرن نوزده وسرانجام با جنگ جهانی دوم همه ان تاروپود های اشرافیگری وبرگزیدگی در جامعه از بین میرود ودوره جدیدی در روابط ادمها ایجاد میشود
Profile Image for ladydusk.
428 reviews174 followers
June 11, 2012

I enjoyed reading this a lot. The writing is really excellent and draws the reader through the story. The motivations of the characters, the relationships between the characters, the voices of the characters are all so well done. Her characters, too, do not remain static but mature, grow, and change and their voices reflect this. Sympathies with one character narrator become antipathies with the next. Howatch teaches us how to consider the perspective of those we love ... and those we hate.

I am constantly impressed with how Howatch can move story lines between centuries and situations and make them relevant so the reader learns about both periods and the people and places she sets them in.
Profile Image for Laura.
6,850 reviews554 followers
May 10, 2011
Another fabulous book by Susan Howatch telling the Castallack family saga from 1890 to 1945. Jan-Yves story is my favorite among all the Penmarric's masters. It's quite interesting the parallelism made by the author with the Plantagenet history. Thanks Misfit for this book recommendation. The Wheel of Fortune will be the next book to read soon.
Profile Image for Small Review.
610 reviews207 followers
August 12, 2020
Most of everything I said about Cashelmara can be said about Penmarric. The writing is rich, the characters are real, and the parallels between the surface story and the history it retells are fascinating individually and together. Chapters again are large and narration again switches from one character to another.

Instead of the 1300s, the historical parallel here is Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine and their "devil's brood," including Richard the Lionheart and the evil King John. And, perhaps that was part of the problem for me. I entered this book with far more investment and knowledge of the historical time period than I did with Cashelmara. The characters here felt close to their historical counterparts, but less seamless. Janna as Eleanor was close, but not quite Eleanor. The nod to the Anarchy fell flat, as inheriting an estate after legal disputes just doesn't have the same level of flair and gravitas as fighting a civil war that tore apart England for over a decade has. Philip's obsession with his tin mines, while an interesting parallel, felt like a bit of a stretch from Richard's famous crusades. Events were also not quite as lockstep with history.

That said, I waver, because as much as I can't deny a sense of disappointment with all that, I still adored the book. As much as I might have felt disappointed with tin mines replacing crusades, I spent so much time pondering the historical nuances in the context of Susan Howatch's story that I gained an even greater appreciation for and understanding of those events in history. Her portrayal of John is, shockingly, one of the best and most humanizing portrayals of him I've ever read. He certainly wasn't likable, but finally he was no longer the two dimensional villain history usually portrays him to be (though Mark as Henry II felt far too villainous and without nuance or redeeming features).

So, again, it may not be quite right, but it did make me think about the real historical events and people with a greater depth. Even with my quibbles, I still thoroughly enjoyed Penmarric and highly recommend it.

Originally posted on Small Review
165 reviews9 followers
December 1, 2014
Bleak and Dreary

This is the story of Mark Castallack and his life with his family, actually, with his two families. Mark is lucky with money, but totally unlucky in love. All his kids either hate each other or feel nothing. Mark manages to humiliate all around him. That is the story.

It is well-written, and has a gimmicky plot device that lets contemporary characters follow the life of King John of England. This is a signature quirk of several of Howatch's novels. It is an interesting turn. Howatch is an extremely gifted writer. The plot flows easily and her use of dialogue is excellent.

To me, however, all of the characters were one dimensional, and that one dimension was a complete lack of caring for anyone but themselves. Their choices indicated that they did not even care about themselves very much. I grew tired of the never-ending downward spiral.

The book's title indicated to me that Penmarric would play a central role in the book. It was disappointing to me that even the main character, Mark, did not live there much. His children were raised, for the most part, elsewhere. His wife preferred living in a small farmhouse rather than the castle-like Penmarric. It is my opinion that the most interesting parts of the book took place at the farmhouse. The book should have been called "Farmhouse". I just think that the book would have been more interesting if we were allowed to see some positive interaction. To me, it is just not believable that every aspect of one's life is so mired in negative self-absorption. The whole clan was just miserable, but if one likes wallowing in misery, this author makes it palatable with her very good writing skills. I, for one, am off to find a more balanced approach to humanity.
Profile Image for Holly Weiss.
Author 3 books118 followers
June 24, 2013
Penmarric was Susan Howatch's first book, written when she was twenty-six. It is different in style than her later books, particularly the Starbridge series focusing on Anglican priests. Penmarric shows her working on her craft of creating complex characters (which she does well), but we don’t see the depth of plot she cultivated as she continued to write. The characters of Penmarric are deeply flawed individuals, but she writes great growth and change in them.

The book follows a family through three generations from 1890-1945. Mark Castallack finally inherits Penmarric, a great mansion in Cornwall. To it he brings his bride Janna Roslyn. The book follows the circuitous and antagonistic relationships between he and his children by two different women. Mark’s desire is to bring all of this children, legitimate and illegitimate, to live with him under one roof. Their relationships are often strained, laden with malice and mistrust.

Mark also inherited the Sennen Garth tin mine, which he closes, not having the capital necessary to reopen it. In 1914 one of his legitimate sons, Philip, endeavors to reopen the mine (part of which is under the sea) and finds a great tin lode desperately needed to supply the war effort. I found this section most interesting with its wealth of information about the mining of tin.

The book is in five sections, each narrated by a member of the family:

Mark: 1890
Janna (his wife): 1890-1904)
Adrian (an illegitimate son): 1904-1914
Philip (legitimate son): 1914-1930
Jan-Yves (youngest legitimate son): 1930-1945
Profile Image for Christina.
31 reviews1 follower
December 17, 2013
I really, really wanted to like this book. A friend recommended Howatch to me and I read the first 2 books in her Church of England series. Despite a tendency to not have any good, strong female characters, I loved them, and I'm not even particlarly religious. So, when I found out that she had a series of books based on the Plantagenets (my favorite historical family), I immediately hunted them down. What a disappoinment this first one was. There was not a single character I cared for. They were neither likable, interesting, nor sympathetic. I simply just did not care about them. There was also an extremely superficial resemblance to my favorite Plantagenet, Eleanor of Aquitaine. I kept waiting for Janna to grow a backbone. It never happened. I'm also seriously beginning to wonder if Howatch can present a complex female. So far most of the women in her books are either shrews, whores, brow-beaten, passive simpletons, or a combination.
Profile Image for MaryJane.
177 reviews
October 11, 2010
I loved this book when it first came out years ago. I picked it up the other day at the library - wondering if it would hold up over the years. I'm at about page 80 and I am really enjoying it.

10/10/10 I just finished it and it's still a good a read as when it first came out. I would recommend it to anyone interested in books spanning different generations. It is set at the end of the 19th century in Britain, mainly along the coast of Cornwall and extends to about 1945
Profile Image for Anna.
80 reviews
March 13, 2010
Drama-filled family stuff. It was entertaining for sure...but kinda depressing! I wish she had added just a few more wholesome, redeeming characters to get me through all the realistic, selfish characters. :) Each chapter was from a different character's perspective, and that was intriguing. It also reminded me of an Isabel Allende book I've read...similar family saga issues.
Profile Image for Cirtnecce.
108 reviews19 followers
December 25, 2014
The book is divided into 5 parts and commences in 1890 with the narrative of a young Mark Castallack who introduces us to Penmarric, an estate in Cornwall which was to be inherited by his mother Maud, but which instead went to her cousin Giles who in turn had warmed his way to Maud’s father affection, after the death of her brother. Maud herself was separated from her scholarly and gentlemanly husband Laurence Castallack and instead resides in London and spends her life in a legal battle to secure Penmarric for her son. Mark Castallack who is not fond of his mother and feels more kinship to his father’s quiet and scholarly taste has no interest in Penmarric, but rather hopes to become a historian like his father. He works hard and goes to Oxford to read history, while his mother continues to wage a battle for Penmarric which she ultimately loses. However with the death of Giles’s only son, Mark suddenly becomes the heir to Penmarric. It is at this time that his father closes his own house, an estate, in North Cornwall and comes to reside near Penmarric is a small farm which he inherited from his mother. While visiting his father, one day Marc meets a widow of a farmer, Janna , who is 10 years his senior, but with whom he is instantly taken. Janna however is not interested in Marc and angered by her rejection, Marc goes away to a sea side resort, where he meets, Rose, a daughter of a doctor who works as a Nanny after her father’s death. Spurred on my Janna’s rejection, he sets out to seduce Rose and then returns to his father’s farm. Rose however soon becomes pregnant and things come to a head as Laurence dies while seeking reconciliation with Marc, after a bitter argument, when the former comes to know about Rose. With the death of Laurence, followed soon by demise of Giles, Marc takes over Penamrric and sets out to conquer Janna, with turbulent results that reverberate through two generations of the Castallack family, spanning over 60 years.

The book from the very beginning calls out that it is more of a modern retelling of history of Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine and the rise and fall of the Plantagenet family. Each book begins with a brief synopsis of the Plantagenet family history, which vaguely gives the reader the idea of the premises of the chapters which would follow. It is the credit of the author that despite this synopsis, which kind of lays bare what is about to unfold, the grip of the plot is never lost and as a reader, you would keep turning pages to see actually what does happen. This fine balance of marking out the premises without giving away the solution to the suspense is a fine a delicate art and Ms. Howatch manages this with mastery and great finesse. Her characters are all capable of being generous, liberal, and honest and brave at the same time also behave in an unworthy manner. They are all well drawn out and each character stands independently and distinctly of each other and makes the plot more taut. However there are some inconsistencies – there is a sudden turning of really bad to really good without enough explanation; for one instance you are blackmailing your own father and next minute the same person is revered as a local hero. While I understand that man has many facets, goodness is often well rounded and while we all have moments of weakness, rarely have I seen a nature so contradictory. Having said that, these inconsistencies, do not take anything away from the story and the narratives plays out beautifully, doing ample justice to the lovely beauty of Cornwall as well the very unsettled history of England, 1890-1945. In fact this is another master stroke by Ms. Howatch, many historical novels have a tendency to become history books where history and not the story is main stay of the novel; but in this book, there is again a very fine balance where, one is constantly aware of the changing dynamics in the history and society of Engalnd without taking center stage. Breakdown of the old social order is brought out more by the conduct of the characters rather than a linear narrative. For instance, at the very onset it is clear Marc Castellack favors the traditional idea of women in vogue then where “intellect’ was not a lady’s forte, but rather home and hearth should be the core of her existence. Yet the same Marc Castellack some 35 years later supports his daughter’s education and sends her to Cambridge. This kind of story telling slowly and distinctly unravels the changes in the history while marrying it skillfully with the core theme.

I cannot say I am absolutely fond of this book, in fact I felt it would make a better film than a book, considering the father against son, brother against brother, blackmail, adultery etc. However I am extremely glad to have read it once and if nothing else, as a reader, you will be left breathless, with most glorious description of Cornwall that you could see, breathe and even feel Cornwall.
Profile Image for Susan Liston.
1,293 reviews37 followers
June 6, 2018
I first read this when I was in high school, and adored it and read it multiple times. As years passed I always meant to re-read it, then finally I became afraid to, fearing it would, well, suck - I don't always trust my youthful taste. Finally I just dove in and was surprised to see that it is based on the story of Henry II and his "Devil's Brood", which would have meant nothing to me at the time. (And how odd that I just watched "A Lion in Winter" a couple of weeks ago. Katharine Hepburn wears false eyelashes in 1183, sigh) And guess what, I still loved it. Complete melodrama, of course, but in 735 pages not a moment drags, it whips right along with calamity after calamity. Great fun.
71 reviews
December 8, 2015
I could not get through this book. Generally I'm one to always plow through to the end, but only read about a third before giving up. I couldn't find it in me to like any of the characters and really couldn't bring myself to care about what happened to them.
Profile Image for Kay Green.
705 reviews
October 24, 2018
I am giving this 4 stars because it was so clever and took so much research to write it, but I really did not enjoy the reading experience. The story is set around mid 1800's to 1940 and it is based on the real couple of Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine which is mid 1100s to say 1300. Their children are called the Devil's Brood which may be indicator of my problem. So everyone in the novel is a sad or horrible person, because of they all just hate each other. This is the ultimate dysfunctional family. Everyone who gets married ends up hating their spouse, or mistress or children or parents. Everyone seems to try to cheat the other out of an inheritance or is angry because they are not getting an inheritance. I just wanted at least one person to be nice and happy but what a mess of a family. Then I realized that the characters are based on Henry, Eleanor and their darling children and spouses and it contains many quotes from really biographies which are copied into the actions of the novel. I know I read Susan Howatch in the 70's but maybe it was Cashelmara that I loved. Oh well truth is stranger than fiction.
Profile Image for Blaine DeSantis.
892 reviews108 followers
October 22, 2015
Whew! What a family epic. I have read other reviewers who feel this book is not up to the level of her other efforts, and while I might understand their point of view, you have to keep in mind that this was her first major historical epic and done at a fairly young age and therefore her effort was tremendous. This is my 2nd Susan Howatch book that I have read, the other being Glittering Images, and I am blown away with the detail in her work and how well she weaves the family tale. Sure she uses the Plantagenet family as a guide, but she does an outstanding job with the Castallack family of Cornwall. Each section of the book is narrated and seen through the eyes of a different family member and it is hard for me to figure out which narrator I like the least or the most. It may be the part that is narrated by the mother that eventually wore on me a bit towards the end, as she had continual rags to riches, to rags stories and sometimes she felt very self-centered, but my perception of her even changed when seen through the eyes of other narrators. But in the end it is great family saga, one of saints and sinners, with every callous or wart exposed. Loved it and will start another one of her books in the near future,
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