Susan Howatch- The Heartbreaker

the heartbreaker

What it’s about:

This is the story of high class ‘leisure worker’ Gavin Blake.  On the surface, Gavin has everything he could ever desire.  Money, glamour and the adulation of every woman he meets.  In general, Gavin has mastered emotional detachments from his clients, however his encounters with Richard Slaney seem to remind him of a life he had lost.  This seemingly transient connection quickly spirals, and brings Gavin into the realm of Carta Graham through her work at St. Benet’s.  Consistent confrontations with a different reality, forces Gavin to question a number of beliefs he’s long taken for granted, and in doing so indirectly put him in grave danger.

What I Love:

  1.  We gain a much clearer insight into the character of Elizabeth Mayfield and the world she inhabits.  As with most of Howatch’s work (all those I’ve read anyway), all the novels are stand-alone but interlinked, and the Heartbreaker provides answers to many of the questions raised by The High Flyer.
  2. The complexities of the relationships between the characters.  As is the case in life, the relationships in Howatch’s work are multidimensional, fraught and as challenging as they can be rewarding.
  3. The way that Gavin himself adopts different identities as a coping mechanism.  Whilst the discrepancies between his personas are extreme, many people struggle to consistently display their authentic selves.  Taking as given the notion that a truly unified personality is what we must all strive for, Howatch magnifies this very human tendency within Gavin’s character to illustrate the potential dangers this presents.

My Favourite Quotes:

  1.  “If I had stayed at home that evening I would have moped, wept and drunk too much in an orgy of anxiety and depression, but fortunately I had been saved from all this rubbishy behaviour because my friend Alice needed me.”
  2. “We swivel, we swoop, we sweat, we lunge, we twirl.  We’re wonderful and everyone knows it.  The other couples melt away.  The blokes in the band are smiling.  The waiters have stopped serving.  The punters are goggle-eyed.  There’s never been such a performance of ‘In The Mood’, never.  It’s Saturday night at the Savoy, it’s Saturday night at one of the greatest hotels on earth, and Susan and I are special, we count, we matter- and never more so than at this moment when we’re living out something that’s more than just our own truth.”
  3. “It’s painful to be trapped in the wrong life, as you yourself well know.  It stifles the spirit when you lead an inauthentic existence, out of tune with the person you really are.  Indeed, the person you really are becomes crushed and maimed.”

Susan Howatch- The High Flyer

the high flyer

 

What it’s about:

In the High Flyer, Howatch introduces us to the world of  Carta Graham and her soon to be husband Kim Betz.  Both are navigating extremely successful careers, and whilst Carta faces challenges in her career, altogether her life plan is coming together nicely.  But very quickly it becomes clear that all is not what it seems and the story develops an increasingly chilling narrative, forcing Carta to seek help from what seems a very unlikely source.

What I love:

  1.  A poignant illustration of how the most well-planned existence will can go awry, but that sometimes the alternatives that emerge are better.
  2. Again we meet the characters from the Wonder Worker.  I love it when authors do this, not only is it like meeting old friends, illustrating the passing of time and the evolution of characters you’ve met previously, helps to solidify their identities and makes them feel like real people.
  3. The consistent emphasis on the critical importance of integrating one’s identity and personality.  This is a theme that permeates many of Howatch’s books, and the tranquility and peace that this concept symbolizes is a consistently compelling aspect of her work.

My Favourite Quotes:

  1.  “But Tucker, you can’t just sit here in the heart of the City of London, where wealth and status symbols are worshipped as Gods, and voice these kind of sentiments!  I mean, this is very subversive propaganda you’re spouting, it’s quite contrary to mainstream thinking, it’s in total defiance of the Zeitgeist!”
  2. “For a moment I remembered my life-plan, mapped out in the days when the past could be ignored, the present was always under control and the future was always subject to the power of my will, and as I saw how efficiently this vision had been hacked to pieces I wanted to scream with rage and despair.”
  3. “Haunted, even enslaved by our troubled pasts, we had been chasing fantasies that did not exist, and as we had moved together through our cynical hall of mirrors, the false image had merely multiplied to deceive us further and lead us on into a life unconnected with reality.”

Susan Howatch- The Wonder Worker

Susan Howatch The Wonder Worker

What it’s about:

I first read this book probably about 15 years ago.  It was my first example of the wonderful work of Susan Howatch, and probably still counts as my all time number one.

This story starts with Alice Fletcher, encountering the staff and the existence of the Healing Centre of St. Benet’s by the Wall, and a version of faith that is quite at odds with her experience.

Written in beautifully evocative language, with characters of incredible depth, every time someone asks me for a book recommendation, this is one I unfailingly refer to.

What I Love:  

  1. How the story is told from the perspectives of several of the novels’ centrals characters- it’s amazing how Howatch is able to encourage the reader to deeply empathise with all the characters, even whilst they’re not at their best.
  2. Alice- The story of her personal evolution is extremely touching.
  3. The way (and this is typical throughout many of Howatchs’ novels) she utilises both psychological and spiritual language to express complex truths, about the people and the world in which we live.

My Favourite Quotes:

  1. “I go back to the Rectory for lunch and find Stacy chasing a mouse around the kitchen with a frying pan.  Bad news.  The mouse escapes and Stacy breaks the frying pan.  More bad news.” Lewis Hall
  2. “Yet I found I could do nothing with that statement because in our family women always did go on.  They kept a stiff upper lip and never complained because, as Mummy had always said, that was the spirit which built the Empire.  But in 1988 the beat of a very different drum was now thundering in my ears and I suddenly found myself asking the revolutionary question: What Empire?” Rosalind Maitland
  3. “Alice had the most beautiful psyche, supple as an athlete’s body and glowing in richly patterned strands of warmth, compassion and understanding.  I’d been aware of it as soon as we’d met, though at the time it had been disfigured by so much anxiety and pain.  The extreme beauty of this aspect of Alice, an aspect invisible to the eye, was why I’d taken such a special interest in her.” Nicholas Darrow