I had bought Thurston House by Danielle Steel at the Book Fair held in Delhi last year, as the name of both the novel and novelist appealed to me. I had read A Good Woman by Steel a few years ago and enjoyed her style of creating convincing historical fiction. She expertly blends emotional quotient and powerful fictional characters with the real historical events, blurring the boundaries between reality and imagination and the end product is an effortless drama, impressive yet entertaining.
The name of the present novel and blurb clearly indicated that the story is going to move around the mansion named Thurston House and as such focus would be on money, love and intricacies of life, played against the backdrop of dwindling fortune and changing loyalties. And, as I finish the novel, I can indeed say that Steel has deftly crafted the story, doing full justice to the finer nuances of human psychology.
The story revolves around Jeremiah Thurston, a rich miner, who has written his own success story from rags to riches. He is a hard working country fellow, content with his village life and brimming with excitement, as he is about to marry the girl of his dreams. But, his fiancee dies and the lovelorn Jeremiah mourns her death for 20 long years. Despite pressure from friends, he doesn’t want to marry, though he is loyal to a woman in town, Mary Ellen, for 7 years now.
But, then the inevitable happens. He undertakes a business journey and falls for the charm of an elderly widow, Amelia Goodheart. He even proposes her to marry,within the short span of a train journey, they undertake together. But, she denies to take such a step at her advanced stage and instead the two of them become best friends for life. However, now Jeremiah has tasted the sweet nectar of love and he soon falls in love with Camille, eighteen year old daughter of his South American client. And, to impress his young, vivacious, ambitious, socialite wife, builds a huge mansion, aptly titled Thurston House.
However, soon it becomes apparent that their marriage is doomed to fail. They are incompatible to the core and after a couple of years and a daughter, Camille elopes, leaving Jeremiah and Thurston House in tatters. To save his face, Jeremiah declares his wife dead and moves back to his village, rearing his daughter Sabrina with great affection and care. But she is quite interested in the mansion and it becomes so linked with her life that all the major events of her life take place there, right from her birth to wedding to embarrassment of her dwindling fortune.
The story spans through the lives of Jeremiah, Sabrina and her Son Jon, as they struggle to imbibe love, harmony and peace in their lives and the ridiculously-magnificent Thurston House slowly becomes witness to the fact that money can not bring happiness.
The story has many shades, with tragic and light moments mingled together, but the most dominant theme here is of love and trust or rather misplaced love and trust. Almost all the characters fall in love with the person most unsuitable for them, blindingly trusting their adversaries while carelessly ignoring those who truly care for them. The misplaced love begins with Jeremiah, who mourns his dead fiancee for 20 years, yet is not able to decide whether he should marry Mary Ellen, who is ready to sacrifice her life for him. He remains indecisive for seven long years, and yet falls in love twice within a fortnight and ends up getting married to a girl 26 years junior to him, within six months.
Same goes for Sabrina. She is doubtful of her rival miner for years and even after marrying him, is not ready to fuse their businesses together, yet doles out all her fortune for the sake of his son, who is a spendthrift and ultimately brings about her downfall. Her line is further carried forward by her daughter in law, who has fallen for Jon, despite the fact that he just uses her for business gains.
As the characters meander through ups and downs of life, Steel deftly portrays their fatal flaws, leading to their doom and yet they are not ready to leave it behind.
In essence, the novel lays bare the lives of three generations, pointing out how we learn and evolve with time. Some hard lessons are learnt only after repeated failures and unless and until, we abandon our old thought patterns, life doesn’t move ahead. And as the novel ends, this point is proven beyond doubt that at times, transformation is the only way to deal with life.
All in all, another good novel by Danielle The storyline is terse, narrative style easy yet gripping and characters well rounded. Highly recommended if you enjoy reading real life dramas.