Bella Poldark by Winston Graham – Or why I reread a series of twelve books!

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This is a book that I have read twice, along with the other eleven books in the Poldark series. It is really difficult to write a review of the final book in the series without giving too much away. This is especially true when many people have only watched the television version and are effectively still in the early books. Do certain characters, notably Demelza, Ross, George, Elizabeth survive? Who has which children? Who marries who? How on earth do they get to the situations they are in? These questions and so many more are dealt with in the eleven books that lead up to this one, and this one answers some questions if not all that the attentive reader has by this point. It is a book which seeks to expand a story with many strands and aspects already in place; its final place in the series means that it has to finish off many parts of the stories even if it possibly was not intended as such.

Who is Bella? Why does her name give the title to the book? Compared to Ross and Demelza, why should she be the focus of the story? The Battle of Waterloo has been and gone, but all is not well as a result of it in faraway Cornwall. Unwise marriages and investments have also left their mark, and here recovery may or may not be made. This book includes both sorrow and loss as well as joy and gain, just as the other books have done, but with a sense of finality. The setting is once more thoroughly explored so the reader feels as if they recognise the houses and the countryside as well as the people, could almost draw a map of the walks and journeys. It is a big book which achieves a lot within its pages, giving information about people and their feelings so lives are changed. The reader’s understanding is extended, the expectations of the characters either fulfilled or defeated.

Over the range of twelve books written over an immense range of time (from the mid twentieth century to the beginning of the twenty first), it is no surprise that there are weak spots or even novels which are not up to reader expectations. They are sometimes repetitive, melodramatic and predictable, and there is at least one character who I found annoying. They are also familiar, comforting, entertaining and challenging, as it is always difficult to foresee what will happen to certain characters. The early loss of one of the central characters shows that Graham was not above killing off characters if he felt the narrative warranted it, so no one is truly safe. So there is the urge to read on, not sure what will happen next. There is uncertainty if Graham really intended this to be the final book; as he wrote it only in the year before his death it is possible that he intended to revisit some of the characters. So this is not the book where everyone dies, happily. I have read all twelve books twice, I really enjoy both television versions, and I am fighting the temptation to read the books all again. I think that they are that good. There are some books which I have not enjoyed so much, but it remains my favourite series of books for readability, engagement and sheer enjoyment. “Bella Poldark” is a suitable place to finish, and this is a master storyteller still at the height of his powers.

Just finishing laying plans for the Derby Book Festival 2018. Lots of great authors making their way to Derby this year!

The Twisted Sword by Winston Graham; the eleventh Poldark novel

This book is number eleven in a series of twelve, so there is a risk of spoilers of many books in reviewing it, but it is such I brilliant book I thought that I would take the risk. If I am honest, I found books nine and ten (“The Miller’s Dance” and “The Loving Cup” respectively) good and readable, but it is this novel which really had me gripped. Not many books literally keep me awake because I must read more, but this one did on more than one occasion. A big book in every sense, it maintains suspense and yet carries multiple storylines so effortlessly that it is a great read.

Time has passed, children have grown and are now in the midst of their own relationships. George is becoming accustomed to being a married man again, but finds that his wife and son can still surprise him in various ways. As always, his suspicions and grudges are affecting his business decisions, and not always for the better. Clowance is not always finding her husband easy to predict or live with, but always challenging. Jeremy has achieved much, most of which is beyond his dreams, but has changed from the steam engine obsessed boy to a man of responsibility

The biggest change is to Ross and Demelza as they emerge from the background of the previous books and the fortunes of their children to become the loving couple with attraction to both each other and those that they encounter. Transplanted to France, Demelza rediscovers her adventurous spirit which means that she shines socially despite her lack of language. Ross becomes the man of individual strength and purpose which brings him into conflict with those who are dangerous to cross. This is the essential relationship which powers all of the novels and which flourishes once more in this book. In good and very bad times they cannot be completely separated, and it is probably their story which meant that I enjoyed this book so much.

This book is dominated by a battle which changed the history of France and much of Europe. If the prospect of military action puts you off, this is not the diagrammatic battle of obscure history books; rather the human experience of scrappy action and injury. There is a family tragedy which takes the breath away, but it serves to remind the reader that life in the early nineteenth century was often brutal and short. Not the most cheerful of the novels, but intense and ultimately hopeful.

This book is a dazzling display of narration and suspense. In a series of novels written over decades, the emphasis has changed several times and while all the books are readable and enjoyable, it is as if Graham was keen to give a renewed focus to Ross and Demelza in the context of their family and it is this element which gives the book its standout quality. It is intense and memorable, and probably the best of the later books in the series.

If you are addicted to the tv series, and finding the whole idea of reading all the books a little overwhelming, or if you are part way through the series of books and flagging a little, this novel alone is a great reason to keep going!

 

 

 

The Stranger from the Sea – Winston Graham (Poldark 8) – And Poldark confusion

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This is a book set some ten years after the exhausting events of the previous Poldark book, and the sadness and a little of the frustration still simmers between Ross and Demelza. Perhaps this would explain why he is away from Cornwall yet again, though at least this gives him opportunity to bring up to date another of the characters who finds himself away from the land and house he has inherited. It is difficult to write about a book when the previous novels (and indeed the television series!) deal with the fates of several characters, and the simple fact is that one or two do not make it this far, so it would be useful to read the previous books or catch up with some of the characters.

Having said that, this book would mark a point at which it is possible to pick up the books afresh. Two of the Poldark children feature here, Jeremy and Clowance, and it is interesting to say the least to see what they have turned out like, with such strong willed parents. I was a little disappointed that they are two dimensional compared with the restless, driven Ross and the brilliantly drawn Demelza. Both come over as inexplicably love struck, being attracted to people that are ambivalent about them, at least to begin with, in comparison with the great emotions of the earlier books.

Ross is still restless, seeking a cause, seemingly both desperately driven to adventure and risk while knowing he should seek the safety and comfort of home. He has become quite the celebrity, his opinion sought at the highest level. That is a little ironic given that he has been so blind to the desires and emotions of those around him. This episode does depend more than some on the historical background to the times, but Graham is still the master of personalising the greater political movements of the times and the great battles which have real effects on Cornwall, despite happening far away.

Demelza keeps her home going with her native wit which has become wisdom, though she still hesitates about the correct social forms and behaviour. She has also grown to appreciate that those of her generation are not proving immortal, and by extension she feels her age and that of those she loves.

Altogether, if you have read the previous novels, this eighth book in the series represents a new beginning in the saga enforced by the ten year gap from the previous novels. Its emphasis has changed, as no character remains unaffected by the commercial and industrial changes of the time. It lacks some of the passion of former novels, but it still retains the twists of fate and the adventures which seem to typify the life of all in Cornwall in the early nineteenth century.

The Poldark confusion is related to my obsession with the original BBC version which is freely available on DVD.  By some chance or feat of organisation I put DVD (Series 2, Volume 1, disc 2) in to watch, which happened to be at the exactly same stage of many scenes shown later on last night’s episode…Even Northernvicar was amazed how some lines were the same, and some events given different emphasis. There is more comedy in the original, and the pace is slower to accommodate more detail. Ross seems to spend less time brooding, and I think his relationship with Demelza is more honest than in today’s version, certainly more affectionate. I suppose that it reflects the difference between vintage period drama and today’s, as far more can be shot outside, less important characters lost, emotions heightened. The result of our confusion? Robin Ellis is undoubtedly a more intelligent Ross, Anharad Reece less outwardly emotional, but more consistent as Demelza.

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The 2017 Poldark is probably more dramatic in many ways, and I cannot wait to see where the battle comes from next week. Who will survive?

200 posts and Poldark!

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200 posts! That’s quite a lot of posts about books and bookish things to have written. I think I started writing and posting in 2010, so I suppose it’s not that many ( the mathematically inclined can work out averages). In that time a lot has happened, some good, some bad, and some good excuses why I have not posted for a while… I did, for example, move two houses into one and complete courses in Citizen’s Advice and TEFL…I could pontificate for some time about why I post at all. I think the main reason is that I love books and want to tell the world about some of them. Sometimes I write a formal review, sometimes it’s more chatty, but thank you to all my followers for putting up with me, and Harry (technical support) for making it possible. Not forgetting @HannahPopsy for going and qualifying as a Doctor despite everything else, and of course http://www.northernvicar.co.uk for pausing between churches to cast an eye over my blog.

To the other focus of this post, POLDARK!

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Or, for those who are past a certain age…or whose parents bought the dvds..

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Or, for the purposes of this post

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Yes, the books are what I have enjoyed most….followed by Robin Ellis who brought a lot more thoughtfulness to the part. Ok, and Aiden, who is bringing other things…..

I always seem to have possessed at least the first Poldark book. I think I can remember the Robin Ellis version first time around (yes, they showed dubious scenes of passion in Cornwall at 7.30pm in those days), but they repeated it on daytime tv while I was hanging around waiting for daughter to be born. I collected the videos from Woolworths as they came out, which I replaced with a set of dvds from Barter Books, of all places. I am just managing to avoid watching them until the current series finishes on Sunday (otherwise known as my birthday).

The books. Why, you ask, with all these tv series to watch, do I read them?

I read all 12 volumes over many years, collecting number 12 in hardback when it came out in 2002 (? I may be wrong, don’t quote me). I have bought other Winston Graham books over the years, including Marnie (Hitchcock’s vision of which made a great film) and he was one of the few male authors allowed into my select library in my “other” house. (Anthony Trollope being the only other one).

Why do I love the Poldark books? Well, there are elements of saga, recurring characters and setting, and plenty of “Oh no, don’t do that moments”. The death of Francis is moving, and generally I think that the character of Demelza is so understandable. She tries so hard, feels so deeply, and it is completely believable that they have portrayed her as a fiery redhead in both tv series. Having said that, I think that both the late Angharad Rees and Eleanor both bring lots to the role which makes the character really live. There are goodies and baddies, all around the character of Ross who well, defies description. Start by reading Ross Poldark in a copy with decent sized type for preference, and see if it draws you in too. You can pick up copies everywhere… fortunately as my friend Anne neatly avoided a domestic crisis when she found volume six on Saturday… it was in the correct place where I hadn’t looked…

As for the controversy on the tv version. It’s in the books. It could have been done more subtly, as it did send out mixed messages. I think it’s a bit like the problem that Philippa Gregory mentioned in her talk at Harrogate. It is about the 18th century, with all that implies. The book was written in the 1960s. It was filmed for 21st century audiences who can be presumed to not be be historians. So we are dealing with three different perspectives. Ross was undoubtedly wrong. So very, very, wrong. And violent. Was it wrong to show the scene? Could it have been done differently? Ought it to have been done differently? I’m not sure. I did think the most real reaction was Demelza’s.  Only a black eye?

Anyway. Thank you for reading to the end, thank you for looking through any of my other 199 posts, and here’s to the next 100 or so!!!