Book review: The Winding Road by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles

Thirty-four books and five hundred years of history ... Cynthia Harrod-Eagles’ unique Morland Dynasty series has reached the 20th century ‘age of jazz’ and it’s as compelling and addictive as ever.

Friday, 11th November 2011, 2:40 pm

A staggering 30 years have elapsed since Harrod-Eagles saw The Founding published and introduced us to the Morlands whose fortunes we have followed from the Wars of the Roses to the Roaring Twenties.

The family, originally from York, has burgeoned both at home and abroad since sheep farmer’s son Robert Morland married Eleanor Courtney, the wealthy ward of the influential Lord Edmund Beaufort, in 1434.

The secret of the books’ overwhelming success has been not just the continuity of witnessing one family evolve over the centuries but the fascinating perspective it has given on English life.

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We have watched generations of Morlands live through war and peace, political upheaval and social revolution, times of pestilence and periods of plenty.

Through a rich tapestry of events, some routine and others momentous, they have experienced love and passion, envy and betrayal, births and deaths, great fortune and miserable poverty.

In 1925, England is prosperous, the nation has put the horrors of the First World War behind it and hope is in the air.

Science and technology will solve all mankind’s problems while the League of Nations, founded to keep peace in the world, will ensure that there can never be war again.

The Jazz Age is in full swing in New York where Polly Morland is the most feted beauty of the day but a proposal of marriage from the powerful and enigmatic Ren Alexander takes her by surprise.

Her cousin Lennie, who is expanding his interests from radio to television and talking films, worries that no one knows much about Ren, but his attempts to find out more threaten disaster.

In London, the General Strike gives the country another chance to show its stiff upper lip, and the Morlands are determined to do their bit to help out. Emma drives an ambulance again while Molly runs a canteen, and each unexpectedly finds love, and a new career.

Meanwhile, Jack is offered a new job as adviser on the British R101 airship project and Violet’s relationship with the Prince of Wales costs her an old friendship.

But the whirligig is slowing, shadows are gathering over Europe and the good times are almost over.

Morland Place is threatened by the worst disaster of its history, and the Old World reaches out a hand to pluck Polly from the New. The Wall Street Crash brings the fabulous decade to a shattering close, and nothing will ever be quite the same again...

Harrod-Eagles gives impressive and authentic historical background to her novels, deftly intertwining the domestic with the social and political, while the lives of her well-drawn characters reflect the events and concerns of the period.

Another engrossing chapter in the superb Morland saga.

(Sphere, hardback, £19.99)