THE TONTINE by Thomas B. Costain


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This might readily have been two novels- both of them better than the one running close to 1600 pages that Thomas Costain has contrived in The Tontine. One novel could have been concentrated on the sprawling ramifications of the industrial empire which was known as Grace and Carboy at the start of the story, when England was trembling at the rumor that the Iron Duke had been defeated at Waterloo. Sam Carboy didn't believe it, and bought in the falling market laying the foundations of what became the greatest fortune in England. With this security, he dared to oust his partner, split the firm, and start out on his own, The enmity engendered colored the lives of both families for three generations, as fortunes rose and fell. And in this charting of England's course lies the background of the best part of the story. Superimposed, but never quite melded with it, is the story of the Tontine, the great Waterloo Tontine, a gambling on survival that gradually narrowed down over sixty years and more until only three survivors were left. Of these one was a Carboy- a dominant woman, daughter of old Sam- who had ridden roughshod over all and sundry- and broken many hearts. One was a Grace, the gentle Sir Julian. And the third was the now old and invalided daughter of old Sam's one time coachman. The Tontine serves as counterpoint until close to the end, when- the industrial empire smashed in financial ruin -- the survivor stood to win a vast fortune which might save the future for the third generation of the family. Only then does Costain really bring the two main threads into cohesion. But for this reader it was too late. The vast tale proved overlong; sympathy and affection were rarely challenged; and much of the deviltry performed during the rising tide of success was punished too little, and too late. I'd bracket this- marketwise- with The Moneyman (1947)- rather than with the more recently successful period novels.

Pub Date: Sept. 23rd, 1955
ISBN: 0307878600
Publisher: Doubleday