by Winston Graham
Tired from a grim war in America, Ross Poldark returns to his land and his family. But the joyful homecoming he has anticipated turns sour, for his father is dead, his estate is derelict and the girl he loves is engaged to his cousin.
But his sympathy for the destitute miners and farmers of the district leads him to rescue a half-starved urchin girl from a fairground brawl and take her home - an act which alters the whole course of his life . . .
I decided to try this series after enjoying the first season (and to a lesser degree, the second) of the new BBC adaptation of the novels. The TV version was fairly faithful to this first book, which is good-- but perhaps this means that the books are less interesting to read after having watched the program...
I have mixed feelings about this novel. It's capably written and reasonably engaging, but it wasn't a page-turner. (Again, I'm not sure how much of that is due to the fact that I knew the story after watching the show.)
Some of my reservations have more to do with my personal tastes than with the quality of the book itself. I suspect that sagas may not be my perfect type of reading. The fairly wide cast of characters should probably be a good thing, for instance, but I think I could do very well without many of them-- especially if it meant more time with my favorites. Certain story-lines simply don't interest me as much as others.
Then there's the "soap opera" effect. The story meanders along, and there's not much of a resolution, even at the end of the book. To a degree, that's not surprising, given that it's only the first in a long series of installments-- but I don't like it when major plot points are left just hanging there until the next book. Worse, I get the sense that there may never be an honest conclusion...
As far as the "romance" element of this first book goes, I found it a bit lacking, unfortunately... Actually, I think the TV series was more "romantically satisfying" than this book, though even the show has its very rough patches. That said, there are a few scenes (watching the pilchard-fishing, for example) where the romance shines. I wish there were more of them, but it seems that the bulk of this series is not especially romantic. For reading material with a true focus on romance, it's better to look elsewhere.
On the positive side, there are some beautiful descriptions and interesting moments of introspection, and a couple of the characters (Demelza and Verity) may make up for the ones I can't bring myself to care about. Maybe if I read further than the TV series has gone, I might find it more compelling, since I won't know exactly what's coming before it has a chance to happen. (The problem is that it looks like I'd have to make it to at least the fifth volume to get ahead of the TV show, at this point!) I'll probably give the next in the series a try before making the decision that I'm satisfied just watching the TV program and leaving the books alone.
Specifics (with SPOILERS):
--I've mentioned this in reviews of other books, but I still don't like it when a hero calls the heroine a "child". It's not at all appealing. What woman-- even a very young one-- wants "her man" to think of her as a child?! Then Ross is jokingly (?) calling Demelza "bud" at the end of the book (which I sincerely hope won't carry over into the next novel)! Yuck.
--I wish there were less "medical stuff". It's not that there's an absolute ton of it, but there's still been more than I like. (However, I know that I may well be in the minority, on this point. Some people seem to have an appetite for these things; personally, I find it the stuff of nightmares.)
--The novel ends without Demelza telling Ross that she's pregnant?! That's weird... I assume the next novel practically begins with that scene, but still... That's one heck of a thing to leave hanging and not even remotely resolved!
--It's pointless to insist that characters in historical fiction have modern sensibilities and viewpoints-- seriously, why read historical fiction at all?!-- but Demelza's subservience was wearing thin for me, by the end of the book. What put a particularly bad taste in my mouth was her statement that "if you love someone ... tesn't a few bruises on the back that are going to count. It's whether that other one loves you in return. If he do, then he can only hurt your body. He can't hurt your heart". Um, no. If my husband hit me and bruised me, I can guarantee that it would hurt my heart, too, and I would take it as a sign that he didn't truly love me-- certainly not as a man should love his wife. The figurative bruises on my heart would last long after the literal bruises of the body had faded and healed. That kind of thing is not pleasant reading, in my humble opinion. It's terribly frustrating in a heroine!