Book review: The Black Moon by Winston Graham

The Black Moon by Winston Graham
The Black Moon by Winston Graham

As the BBC’s lavish production of Poldark hits our screens again this week for the much-anticipated third series, enjoy a second helping of this dazzling Cornish drama by reading Winston Graham’s universally loved original novels.

The Black Moon and The Four Swans, published in paperback by Pan to tie in with the sizzling TV production, are the fifth and sixth novels of Graham’s groundbreaking 12-book series which began in 1945 and ended in the 1970s. The first four books are also available from Pan.

Graham, who died in 2003, was the author of more than 40 novels, including Marnie, a nail-biting psychological thriller which was brought to the big screen by Alfred Hitchcock in 1964.

But it was the gripping and romantic Poldark family series, set in the rugged wilds of Cornwall in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, which won him critical acclaim and fame across the world. The first seven books were adapted by the BBC in a series broadcast between 1975 and 1977.

The Poldark books are set during a time of huge social change as revolutions in America and France caused the British working classes to question their extreme poverty, and the aristocracy to fear the loss of their wealth and privilege.

At the heart of the series is British Army officer Ross Poldark who returned to his land and his family in Cornwall in 1783 after fighting in the American Revolution. But the joyful homecoming he had anticipated turned sour when he discovered that Elizabeth Chynoweth, the woman he hoped to marry, was to wed his cousin Francis Poldark.

Ross’s father died while he was away and the property he inherited had been allowed to deteriorate. But his sympathy for the destitute miners and farmers of the district led him to rescue Demelza Carne, a half-starved urchin girl, and marry her. However, turbulent events have tested both their marriage and their love.

In the fifth book, The Black Moon, set in Cornwall in 1794, we learn that the birth of a son to Elizabeth, now married to Ross’s nemesis George Warleggan, serves only to accentuate the rift between the Poldark and Warleggan families.

And when Elizabeth’s cousin, Morwenna Chynoweth, governess to Elizabeth’s eldest son Geoffrey Charles Poldark, grows to love Drake Carne, Demelza’s brother, the enduring rivalry between George and Ross finds a new focus for bitter enmity and conflict.

The Four Swans, the sixth book of Graham’s remarkable series, covers the years from 1795 to 1797. Although Ross – now something of a war hero – seems secure in his hard-won prosperity, a new dilemma faces him in the sudden infatuation of a young naval officer for his wife Demelza.

All four women – the four swans – whose lives intersect with Ross, face a crisis over these years. For his wife Demelza, his old love Elizabeth, his friend Doctor Dwight Enys’ new wife, the wealthy heiress Caroline Penvenen, and for the unhappy Morwenna Chynoweth, these are times of stress and conflict.

Steeped in humour, romance, passion, tragedy and the stunning Cornish landscape, the Poldark books are as exciting and fresh as they are timeless and memorable. The perfect accompaniment to the thrilling TV series!

(Pan, paperback, £7.99)