Anyone who has read some of Howatch’s other novels will know that she writes long intricately convoluted, enthralling stories. And she offers lots of action, plenty of realistic dialogue, complicated well-drawn characters, and unpredictable plots. Built around the powerful Wall Street banking industry between 1922 and 1940, this 658-page saga involves three generations of several individual families.
Howatch writes in the first person but interestingly breaks the plot into six sections… in each of them a different character is telling the story. This allows the reader to view many of the characters from different perspectives. And just as in real life, all the characters are flawed and have weaknesses, vices, and misconceptions about life. Of course, some are worse than others and many don’t recognize their own deficiencies.
The opening paragraph, “I was in London when I first met Dinah Slade. She was broke and looking for a millionaire, while I was rich and looking for a mistress. From the start we were deeply compatible.” That’s Paul Van Zale speaking. In the prime of his banking career Paul is ruthless, feared, revered, already on his third wife (but who’s counting) and has recently abandoned his previous mistress. With neither Dinah nor Paul realizing what they’re getting into, the stage is set for an explosive clash of power and passion.
As the story moves forward, you get a first hand view of “last man standing mentality” corruption, self-serving manipulation, and the daily scandal occurring on Wall Street… the kind that eventually led to the stock market crash of 1929. Blended with the domestic scenes of marriages of convenience, adultery, subservient wives, and the rising tide of women’s liberation, you watch the approach of World War II. Are the rich different? That’s debatable. But whether inherited, achieved by hard work, or acquired by some unscrupulous method, their wealth certainly affords them the luxury of a decadent lifestyle.
This is a great beach read or long air flight read. The Rich are Different provides you with pure distraction from those everyday real-life problems… what I like to refer to as brain candy. You may despise many of the characters and be appalled at their behavior. But surely you will be entertained. And when you finish, you can read the sequel – Sins of the Fathers – which picks up in 1949 with some of the same characters.
Rated 4 Stars.
I use a rating scale of 1 to 5. Books rated 1, I seldom finish. Books rated 2, I usually finish but would never recommend to anyone. 5 is the highest rating.