Review: Cashelmara by Susan Howatch

In the wild, untamed Irish wilderness lies a stark and cold Georgian era estate known as Cashelmara. Lord Edward de Salis is the master of Cashelmara, but as an Englishman he resides primarily in London but deep down he always considers Cashelmara home.

When his wife dies, Lord de Salis travels to America hoping to ease his grief. What he doesn’t expect to find is love. Marguerite is young enough to be Edward’s daughter but there is something about her that makes Edward feel at ease and happy once again. After they marry he takes Marguerite back to Ireland and Cashelmara where tragic events begin unfolding.

Cashelmara chronicles three generations of the de Salis family: Edward and Marguerite, Patrick and Sarah, Maxwell, and finally young Ned. This is a novel full of gothic romance, tragedy, murder, passion, and drama…..this is a family saga to rival even modern day soap operas.

It is difficult to discuss the book without giving away too many details so I will do my best to keep this spoiler free. The saga unfolds using six different POVs and covers three generations of family drama with a capital D….the novel coers everything from adultery, financial ruin, alcoholism, twister sexual desires to murder. How will the de Salis family ever right all the wrong that has been done? Who will save them from complete and utter ruin? Is redemption even a possibility anymore? Perhaps the de Salis family will remain in the gutters forever.

One of the things I loved most about this novel was that it was character driven. The characters were flawed just enough to make them relatable and real without putting the reader off and becoming cast as either the villain or the hero. I can’t say that I especially liked any of the characters but that is ok, it didn’t make the novel drab by any stretch of the measure, in fact it made it more exciting…..and here is why. I love books that surprise me and characters who surprise me. I like getting to know all aspects of each character and I thought Howatch’s characters in Cashelmara were mysterious, dark, complex, and compelling.

For example, when I started reading from Edward’s POV in the beginning I really liked him. He was funny, charming, and totally likable. But when I started reading from Marguerite’s POV in the second part of the book, I saw Edward in a completely different light. Likewise I could sympathize with Patrick when I read his POV but hated him when I read from Sarah’s POV.

I thought Howatch did a marvelous job making sure that the reader got a complete picture of the character’s rather than a one-sided snippet. I liked each of the characters when I was reading from their POV but when I read from someone else’s perspective I didn’t like them at all. But that’s ok, I loved the feeling it gave the novel. This method really enhanced the gothic feel of saga….I loved it!

When Open Road Media approached me about reviewing this novel, I was thrilled. I was expecting to read a traditional historic fiction novel…..but I was over the moon when I discovered the richness, depth, and the gothic romance elements. I adore gothic romances especially family sagas…..the ruined noble family, the lady trapped in a dark and un-natural love triangle, and  all the family secrets and scandal. This novel exceeded all of my expectations.

It is clear from reading Howatch’s novel that she has done well with her historic research. There is nothing worse than reading a historic fiction novel with shoddy historic research. The novel was full of Irish history but it didn’t overwhelm the audience, the primary focus was the family saga.

The historic foundation was merely a background element to help guide the reader along and help establish some of the conflicts of develop throughout the novel. The historic bits were laid out in an understandable fashion and even if you know nothing about Irish history, you will not be lost.

Howatch has written a number of family saga historic novels (for more by Howatch visit her Open Road Author page) and if they are anything like Cashelmara, I would gladly read them all! Reading this novel was such a treat for me, I loved the passion mixed with tragedy that filled the pages.

Challenge/Book Summary:

Book: Cashelmara by Susan Howatch

  • ebook, 338 pages
  • Published October 9th 2012 by Open Road (first published 1974)
  • ISBN 145326342X (ISBN13: 9781453263426)
  • Copy provided by Open Road Media 

This book counts toward: NA

  • Hosted by: NA
  • Books for Challenge Completed: NA

Recommendation: 5 out of 5 (a family saga filled with gothic romance)

Genre: Historic Fiction, Gothic Fiction, Romance, Victorian lit

Memorable lines/quotes:

Love is such a flexible word

I know your kind-a little sarcasm here, a cutting remark there. You destroy a man by inches

It’s easy to lust after a beautiful woman but not nearly so easy to know what to do with her after you’ve had what you wanted.

4 thoughts on “Review: Cashelmara by Susan Howatch

  1. [“Who will save them from complete and utter ruin? Is redemption even a possibility anymore? Perhaps the de Salis family will remain in the gutters forever.”]

    Actually, the answers to those questions can be answered in Howatch’s next novel, “THE WHEEL OF FORTUNE”. The de Salis family’s story is continued in that novel, but their name has been changed to Godwin. And the story’s setting was changed to Wales.

  2. Thank you for this delightful review! I’ve read all Howatch’s family sagas and I have to admit that Cashelmara is my LEAST favourite. Maybe because I’m Irish myself and I hate having to read about an Gorta Mór and how my people suffered. You write that the characters are sufficiently flawed to make them interesting, but don’t forget they are based on real people (Edwards I, II and III Plantagenet). Kudos to Susan Howatch for making them credible. My favourite Howatch sagas are the Wheel of Fortune, Penmarric, the Rich are Different and its sequel Sins of the Fathers. Penmarric is based on the lives of Henry II Plantagenet, his wife Eléonore of Aquitaine, his great love Rosamund de Clifford, and his hideously numerous offspring. The Rich are Different/Sins of the Fathers are based on the lives of Julius Caesar, Cleopatra, Marcus Antonius, Octavianus and their various vicissitudes and offspring. So all these people were real human beings too. By the way, you write “Lord Edward de Salis”, but that would only be his title if he were the younger son of a duke or a marquis. We aren’t actually told his rank but I believe he is a Baron or possibly a Viscount. In that case he would be referred to as “Edward, Baron de Salis” or “Edward, Viscount de Salis”, or “Lord de Salis” which is nice and vague. British degrees of aristocracy are very confusing, I admit.

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