As another reviewier has said, "reading The Rich Are Different made me remember why I love reading." This was true for me also. I love reading when I've found a great story that allows me to become immersed in the book. I find it hard to put the book down. I think about the story lines. I think about the characters as if I know them personally.
Early in this story Howatch introduces the reader to Paul Van Zale, a millionaire investment banker from New York who during the 1920's has gone to England on bank business. He is a flawed, but powerful character, whose worst fear is being known for the weakness he must hide from the world. He is a man interested in the classics. Powerful, ruthless, rich, he constantly worries about appearances. He longs for intimacy, but sees relationships as transactional only. He is a banker after all.
While he is in England, he is introduced to Dinah Slade, a much younger damsel in distress. By a wily scheme she is presented to him in the most creative and fantastical way. She is smart, ambitious, and also interested in the classics. Paul Van Zale has met his match in Dinah. Cunning and intelligent, she is destined to become a rich and powerful woman in her own right. She just needs to find someone to fund her ventures and save her ancestral home. Paul is that person. Duplicitous to the core, Paul can't be trusted, and he cannot trust. This truth provides a foundation for a classic struggle that will be a theme that forms one of the central plot lines in the book. Will Paul ultimately solve Dinah's problem of saving her beloved home and heritage, or will she in the end be the only one who can save it?
Some have compared the story to a retelling of the story of Julius Caesar, Mark Anthony, and Cleopatra. Certainly all the themes of greed, ambition, love, and deception are found in the story.
This story is timeless. The setting is brilliant because where can one tell a story about greed, excesses, and amoral behavior better than in the setting of the banking industry during the 1920's. The characters are developed excellently as the narrator changes throughout the novel. In the beginning, the story is told through Paul Van Zale. Then, the other main characters develop the telling of the story through their voices. I admire Howatch's character development. She is the master at doing that.
She weaves together a story so well that even through one is sad to finish the book, one is also deeply satisfied by the reading of a good piece of writing. Few write sagas as well as Susan Howatch.
Now, I am off to read the next book in this series. I am hooked.