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BOOK LIST: Lauren Willig lists her favourite family dramas

Wednesday, July 03, 2013

I recently read and loved Lauren Willig's new book THE ASHFORD AFFAIR which combines mystery, suspense, romance and family drama into one fabulous read (you can read my review here)

Lauren has kindly put together a list of her own favourite family dramas for me.

As a child of the 80s, I grew up on big, sweeping, family sagas.

Does anyone else remember those?  They were inevitably doorstop sized and often had two or three equally large sequels.  The gem among family sagas was Barbara Taylor Bradford’s A Woman of Substance—and then the sequels, Hold the Dream and To Be the Best — which I read and re-read until the binding broke and pages fell out.  But it wasn’t just Barbara Taylor Bradford.  The shelves were full of tangled tales of ambition, success and familial bickering: Judith Krantz, Elizabeth Adler, Jeffrey Archer, Celeste de Blasis.

One of the things I loved about these books was the “how they got there” aspect.  Often, they would start in the present day (albeit a present day of bright blue eye-shadow and extra-wide shoulder pads) with a formidable matriarch, or multiple formidable matriarchs, and then skip back and forth in time, showing the formidable matriarch’s not so formidable days and how she gradually got to be where she was.  There was something incredibly energizing about that progress, about watching someone conquer her fears, and, often by trial and error, with missteps along the way, stumble into success.

Of course, the stumbling wouldn’t be apparent to the other characters in the present day.  That was part of the lure of these novels, the feeling that you were getting the inside scoop on what had really happened, all the details to which the heroine’s children and grandchildren weren’t privy or didn’t appreciate.  We also got an inside view of the price of success: the insecurities, the double-crosses, the plotting among family members who didn’t realize just how far the family had come.

That was only one brand of the family saga.  There were the more straightforward ones, too, the ones that didn’t go back in time but started at the beginning and then kept on moving forward—but, now that I think about it, the draw was the same.  It was the thrill of watching a family’s story develop over time, getting to see how each generation impacts the next.

Without realizing it, it was that sort of book I set out to recreate when I sat down to write THE ASHFORD AFFAIR: a family saga where the events of the past affect everyone for generations thereafter—and we, as readers, get the inside scoop.

These were some of my family saga favorites as a pre-teen back in the 80s:

Barbara Taylor Bradford’s A Woman of Substance, in which an Edwardian scullery maid rises to become an international magnate with a department store and textile empire;

Colleen McCullough’s The Thorn Birds, chronicling multiple generations of an Australian family, centering around the doomed love of the daughter of the family for a Roman Catholic priest (played by Richard Chamberlain in the mini-series—oh, the memories);

Judith Krantz’s Princess Daisy, ranging from Imperial Russia to modern America;

R. Delderfield’s God is an Englishman, about the rise of a family’s fortunes in the industrializing England of the mid-nineteenth century; 

Elizabeth Adler’s The Property of a Lady, which follows a tangled web of intrigue and missing jewels from Imperial Russia to New York.    

What were your favorite family sagas?

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