Thursday, February 3, 2011

When There is More Than One...

Finding a great, well written story is always a treat. But when it is part of a series, when you know there is more to come, that just adds to the pleasure. Here are a few of my favorites.


I got hooked on Poldark after about five seconds of Robin Ellis’ smoldering performance on Masterpiece Theater. That was in 1978. I started reading the series written by Winston Graham and I plowed through them with glee.

Alistair Cooke, the host for so many years, later said Poldark was not one of his favorites in the Masterpiece Theater series, that it was too much of a soap opera. With all due respect to Alistair, I couldn’t disagree more. It is a melodramatic story in many ways. But the characters are true to life, full of flaws and bad decisions, good deeds and altruism when you least expect it. They experience grievous losses and hilarious escapades. In other words, nothing is black and white, just like real life.

There are twelve novels altogether, covering a time period from 1783 to 1820. The stories take place mostly in Cornwall, England and revolve around the Poldark family, with elements of the politics and social standards of the times thrown in. In the first novel, Ross Poldark has fought in the Revolutionary War in America and returned to find his home in shambles and his fiancée about to marry his cousin (she does, too!).

He sets about rebuilding his life, restoring his family fortune and finding love himself. Subsequent books chronicle the lives of the people around him including his wife, his children and even his archenemy. I re-read the series every few years. They are wonderfully written and fun to get lost in. I always find something I had forgotten or rediscover a terrifically wrought phrase. Winston Graham died in 2003, so I treasure what he left to us.


The Jewel in the Crown was another Masterpiece Theater series that was so wonderful it was a gift to discover there were four novels behind it. Four! Yippee!

The TV series began in December of 1984 and was absolutely beautiful in the way it unfolded. It is a heartbreaking story of love and jealousy and revenge on the eve of India’s independence from England. It was based on the novels by Paul Scott, an Englishman who was stationed in India through World War II and the subsequent partition of India and Pakistan. He fell in love with the Jewel in Queen Victoria’s crown and wrote several novels with India as the setting. The Raj Quartet was not initially well received but has since gained popularity and respect as a work that tells a lush saga intertwined with history and a complicated, beautiful, mysterious country.

The four novels that make up the Raj Quartet, The Jewel in the Crown (1966), The Day of the Scorpion (1968), The Towers of Silence (1971) and A Division of the Spoils (1975), loop from the 1940’s to the 1960’s and back to the turn of the century. The narrative encompasses dozens of characters, each memorable in their own way as part of plot, but also because they are so rich and well developed. Their stories are absorbing and tragic. This series will make you want to hock everything and go to India to explore it’s magnificent geography and turbulent history. It is well worth reading for so many reasons.

If you are interested in any of these books, there are links below to Amazon.

There are other great series out there that I'll share in upcoming posts.

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Kathy said...

gosh, Marie..2 in a row. I'm writing down a couple of the writers you mentioned, ones I've tripped over over the years but not hard enough to jar their books into my hand. I just finished the latest Jack Reacher. Are you a mystery freak? I loved Just Kids by Patti Smith and am on the list for Keith Richards book. I read Robb Forman Dew for the first time recently. She's a great writer I missed along the way and I have all of her books to read, like you with Poldark.

Marie said...

Kathy - I am trying to keep my resolution to keep up with my posts! I so enjoy writing them, and compose them in my head all the time but have a hard time finding the time to actually write them down. But I am working on that.

I am a mystery freak and I am always on the look out for new (to me) writers. I have read excerpts of Keith Richard's book, I don't know if I could keep up with the whole roller coaster ride. lol

In addition to the Poldark books, Winston Graham wrote several mystery/thrillers including Marnie and The Walking Stick. Interesting stuff.

Thanks for your suggestions!

Bayspinner said...

Paul Scott's "Staying On" is also good. A couple of the minor characters from The Raj Quartet (the Smalleys) are the main characters in "Staying On". The title refers to Brits who decided to remain in India after independence. It's a story of being a stranger in a foreign land and of growing old. It was televised with Celia Johnson and Trevor Howard in the main roles.
Regards from the banks of the Chesapeake

Marie said...

I loved Staying On! It was such fun to see Celia Johnson and Trevor Howard in different roles, as my favorite movie is Brief Encounter. I read the book after seeing it on TV and thought it compared well. They were such great actors.

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