Ross Poldark by Winston Graham – Book Review

Ross Poldark by Winston Graham - Book cover

Ross Poldark, a captain with a gunshot ankle, limps home to picturesque Cornwall from the American Revolutionary War. His father is dead, the house is in ruins, and his fiancée has replaced him with his cousin. As Ross sets out to restore his dilapidated home, his self-esteem, and embark on farming, you get a glimpse into the daily life of late 18th-century South England. It wasn’t the most uplifting place at the time: the war has plunged the country into recession, the mining industry, the cornerstone of Cornwall’s economy, is struggling, the upper classes revel while the lower ones suffer. Ross’s useless employees, inherited from his father, drink like fish, and Ross himself isn’t averse to a tipple. You have no idea how this will turn out.

Then Demelza arrives.

Demelza is a 13-year-old, impoverished half-orphan whom Ross rescues from her brutal father and takes in as a housemaid. He couldn’t have done anything better. From this point on, you can’t wait to read about Demelza; her pages, especially with their poignant nature, overshadow the rest of the novel. Demelza is getting older, becoming more astute, and then sets out to capture Ross’s attention…

Many liken the first volume of the Poldark series to “Pride and Prejudice.” I wouldn’t know, as I haven’t read it; I only started with the 1995 Colin Firth series adaptation, but after about 10 minutes, I tossed the remote due to its superficial and exaggerated nonsense. Winston Graham’s book is emotional but not sentimental. It’s much more of a family saga with social sensitivity than a romantic novel, and it doesn’t feature the silly twists typical of women’s genre fiction.

A romantic novel would end with the main characters getting married. Their story really only begins after Ross impulsively marries the girl: you, on the other hand, watch contentedly as Demelza rises to Ross’s intellectual and then social level, and by the end, they become equal partners in the relationship.

Interestingly, it’s as if Demelza not only has a positive influence on Ross and you but also on the novelist: with the marriage, the quality of the writing improves, the style becomes more cohesive, and elaborate nature descriptions start adorning the text, while the uninteresting subplots (Jim and Jinny & other miners – who occasionally had their own perspectives) either seamlessly integrate into the narrative or disappear altogether. And you notice that you CAN’T PUT DOWN this volume.

8/10 (80%)

Ross Poldark (The Poldark Saga #1) by Winston Graham
379 pages, Paperback
Published in 2015 by Sourcebooks Landmark

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