I’m not referring to the game show, but instead, to one of my top ten favorite novels of all time. Susan Howatch’s The Wheel of Fortune, published in 1984, over 1000 pages, is a fascinating family saga.
Welcome to Oxmoon, an estate in Wales, home to the wealthy Godwins. Over the course of fifty years and four generations, we are told the story of the Godwin family’s fortunes–good and bad–through the first person perspectives of its key members. Robert, Ginevra, John, Kester, Harry, and Hal are the voices of Oxmoon. Each in turn telling their version of events. Featuring glittering parties, family legacies of madness, murder, and doomed romance, witness the downfall and destiny of the Godwin family.
The author’s note–at the end of the paperback edition I read–astounded me! “The Wheel of Fortune is a re-creation in modern dimension of a true story…” Edward of Woodstock (1330-1376) the Black Prince; his wife Joan of Kent; his brother John of Gaunt; his son Richard II; John’s son Henry of Bolingbroke who became King Henry IV, and finally Henry’s son, Henry V. King Henry V “who restored England to her former military glory and completed the full circle of the Plantagents family’s wheel of fortune.”
I hadn’t realized until then that Howatch had based her Godwins on the true story of the royal Plantagents. Those familiar with British history would likely have seen the plot similarities, but reading the book in my teens, I didn’t. Yet I found it fascinating how the author adapted the reign of British kings to a modern family of the 1900s. Though not the first–or last–book to do so, this was my first experience with such an adaptation.
Writers gather material from so many sources, and history is certainly rich with larger than life characters. This novel has always inspired me. Howatch has done a superb job with this character driven story of one family.
For those you who love family sagas, like me, this novel is worth the time. From the first line, “How seductive are the memories of one’s youth,” to the last “…we danced at last beneath the chandeliers at Oxmoon as the orchestra played ‘The Blue Danube’,” this epic novel will captivate you.
One of my favorite novels of all time.
I wouldn’t be surprised if this isn’t Howatch’s best. I tried reading some of her others, like Penmarric, but for some reason couldn’t get into them. Maybe I should give them another go. For a while, it seemed like her books weren’t available in bookstores, but I’ve noticed some new editions online that appear to have been reissued around 2005.