Destiny by Sally Beauman

I have tried to write this post at least a hundred times. I’ve tried to write about this subject to friends, with no success. Every time I get close, I can’t find a way in. I feel like I’m just going to start writing adjectives and adverbs with maybe a few nouns like: hurt cry yes amazing love sex France.

I am trying to write about a book. Destiny by Sally Beauman. But I can’t really just talk about the book. I have to talk about my whole life to convey the importance of this book to me.

I’m a little nervous. This is probably the most risky, personal thing I’ve ever written anywhere.

I read Destiny when I was fifteen years old. I even remember the day I bought it. It was a bookstore in the Sharpstown area; I was with my father. I was perusing the Fiction shelves and saw a blue cover with a red rose, and on the rose was a small diamond.

The back said:

Edward and Helene. When they met it was more than coincidence. When they fell in love it was more than passion. When they thought they’d lost it all, they should have known they were wrong–they should have known it was Destiny.

It sounds kind of cheesy, I suppose, and if I recall correctly, it sounded a little cheesy and over the top to me back then too. But I selected the book. One of the blurbs on the back of the book reads:

“For as long as it took me to read Destiny, it became the most important thing in my life. I was riveted.”–Dominick Dunne, author of the The Two Mrs. Grenvilles.

I think that is the best possible way to explain how I devoured this book: it was the most important thing in my life. It was over six hundred pages and I think I read it in two days. I remember staying in my room, not eating, not doing anything but reading and crying. I had a similar reaction the first time I read Gone With The Wind, so though I was rapt, I didn’t realize that my life was changing even as I read the words.

When I was finished, I was devastated. I wept for days. I also think by this time I was fairly obsessed with England, and England plays a big part of the book, so not only was I in love with the characters (which I will finally describe in a moment) but I was in love with the setting of the book.

I hate to admit this because it is so silly from an adult’s point of view. But it was part of the reason, when my father died, that I moved to London. I wanted to be a character in this novel. I wanted the possibility to live that kind of life. I brought the book with me to London. It returned home with me a year later. I would occasionally dip into it, open a random page and read a few paragraphs. But in toto it was still too much. It hurt to read those words. It felt safer to carry them around with me, and know they were beside me if I needed them.

I read it again when I was twenty. It seemed like an entirely different book, and yet it was even better than the first time I read it. Again, I was devastated. One would think that having known what happens, I would be prepared. I was not. I wept and wept and wept, and even as I write these words, I feel the beginnings of tears developing in the corner of my eyes.

I read the book over the next decade perhaps twenty-five times. I needed to keep reading because I wanted the ending to be different. I wanted to find a clue that there was some way… some…. way? It has traveled with me to: Los Angeles, New York, London, Paris, Seattle, Portland, Connecticut, Nantucket, Boulder. It has traveled with me everytime I’ve moved; other books have fallen away, but this one book, I can not let go. It is tattered. The spine is broken, the pages are yellowing. And it is still in my life. I still can’t give it up.

I can’t give up the dream that one can be in love like that.

Such a stupid thing to say. But never in my real life have I seen love like that. I do not believe in love at all; I find it a ridiculous convention, without any basis in reality. I know people date (a disgusting, vaguely embarrassing thing) and I know they get married and have babies and live in the suburbs. I don’t know what that is but my secret suspicion is that it’s a pale approximation of love. Love shouldn’t be casual. It should embarrass you to talk about because it’s the most sacred thing in the whole world.

I am a cynic: I think the millions of marriages we see every year are basically just people deciding they’d rather not be alone. And that is fine! Good for them. If they’re happy, I have nothing to say about it.

But it isn’t my notion of love, and I know that nobody can live up to my ideal of it, and because the ideal is more important to me than sacrificing my principles, I’ve given up on it.

Destiny begins with Edouard. He is the second son of a dynastic French family. His family has fled France for England during World War Two, and he is fifteen years old. His older brother, Jean-Paul, has set him up with a woman – a French prostitute named Celestine. For a year, he sees her, convinced that he is in love with her. On the night of his sixteenth birthday, his father is executed in France for working with the Resistance. He goes to find Jean-Paul and finds him not at the house of his fiancee, Isobel, but passed out in Celestine’s bed. Beauman writes the scene with such immediacy – it is headspinning. Celestine is sad; she has fallen in love with Edouard, but would never tell him that. She knows he is meant for someone great – she’s not appropriate at all. But through her eyes, we see this beautiful, sweet, silly young boy and we fall in love with him too.

Of course he does not go back to her but when her elderly sponsor dies, Edouard, via his attorney, sends the deed to the small house in her name, and a modest annuity.

Meanwhile, in Alabama… Helene is the daughter of a young British woman who dreams of going back to England. They live in a trailer park; her mother, Violet, works in a hair salon and doesn’t make much money. While she’s working, Helene is left alone for long periods of time. She befriends an older boy, Billy Tanner, who takes her swimming in a pond. She and Billy are both misfits. Helene, at the age of five, speaks with a British accent; her mother forces her to practice her table manners, and fills her head with stories about going home to England. They even have a little box where they keep money, dollar bills and coins, hoping to go to England. Billy and his family are considered the lowest of the low.

Even at this point in the book, you can feel something changing in Alabama. You know that Helene and Billy are going to get caught in the racial unrest of the late 1950s but you don’t quite know how.

After his father’s death, Edouard and Jean-Paul at first become very close. But it is short-lived. Edouard goes to Oxford, where Isobel makes a surprise visit. She and Jean-Paul broke off their engagement long ago, and she comes to seduce Edouard before she marries a race car driver.

Our young Edouard is already cutting a firebrand through the women of London and France. He has become known for giving women jewels after he ends an affair with them – but never diamonds. He remembers what Celestine said about holding something in reserve, both words and things. To keep something for the woman he wants to be his wife. He is not interested in a wife; women are little more than a trifle to him. He enjoys sex, but finds absolutely no need for any kind of relationship. He is not as close to his brother anymore because Edouard wants very much to restore his father’s jewelry/hotels/etc. empire to its former glory and Jean-Paul is very lazy and doesn’t care about it. So Edouard undertakes to restore it himself. He restores their mansion in St. Cloud, in the Loire, Paris, and their home in Eaton Square. He re-invigorates the all the businesses. Jean-Paul moves to Algiers, where the family have several olive plantations.

In Alabama, Helene is growing into a beautiful young woman. She is dirt poor and is fascinated by the town’s richest man – Ned Calvert. But mostly she worries about going to England with her mother. She and Billy don’t really swim any more, but they still talk. When one of her bitchy friends, Pricilla-Anne, tries to talk him down, she defends him.

One day, while riding in the Loire, Edouard sees a young boy, about six years old. A teenage girl pulls him away, but days later, he sees the boy again and talks to him. The boy’s name is Gregoire. Finally he goes to find the boy’s parents, and discovers they live in poverty on the grounds of his chateau. He is offended and orders the maintenance people to fix the homes at once. To make it worse, the young boy is Jean-Paul’s illegitimate child. Edouard is furious with his brother. But in general as he gets closer to Gregoire, he becomes much more gentle. He takes the boy to live with him in the chateau – which the mother wants – and Edouard spoils him. He buys him cars because he loves to take apart engines.

One afternoon he must go to the US for business. He is informed the boy is ill. By the time he returns home, the boy has died of meningitis. Like the disappointment when he discovered Jean-Paul with Celestine, this becomes a turning point for him. He becomes very stern. He is deeply sad and deeply unhappy.

Isobel comes to see him, and they marry. It is amazing here how Beauman captures both the happiness he shares with Isobel and his fundamental sadness. He is still a little moody occasionally, but he does love Isobel and she loves him. They’re generally very well matched. On a trip to Algiers to see Jean-Paul, Isobel and Jean-Paul are killed by a terrorist bomb.

At this point, Edouard is completely brutal. He is very rich, very handsome, has lots of sex, but no-one, except his close friend Christian, gets anywhere close to him.

In Alabama, Ned Calvert has invited Helene to have dinner at his big mansion while his wife is out of town. She goes, and Ned feels her breast. She doesn’t really know what to do about it. Meanwhile, Billy Tanner has a big plan for her birthday. He has saved up some money to take her and Pricilla-Anne and Pricilla-Anne’s jerk boyfriend out to dinner at Howard Johnson’s. The boyfriend is awful, ordering more food than he could possibly eat just because he knows Billy can barely afford it. Billy works at a gas station and he socializes with black people. He has committed the egregious sin of actually eating dinner at one of his co-worker’s homes. Pricilla-Anne’s boyfriend mentions this a few times.

Helene and Billy walk home and Billy has a truly lovely little monologue:

“It’s going to change,” he jerked out suddenly. “It’s going to change. Someday soon. He can’t see it. Most of them can’t see it. But it will.” He lifted his hand and let it fall. “He’s been to college. He probably reads more books in a week than I get through in a year, and he can’t see it. No more than my daddy can, and most of the folks round here. But it will change – it’s wrong, so it’s got to, that’s all. I didn’t always think that way. Not when I was a kid. And if I said what I thought now, my daddy’d smash me in the face. But I think it just the same. I look around here – and all I see is hate. All I ever see is hate. Hate and fear. Everybody scratching, scratching just to keep their little place on the heap, just to keep from slipping a little bit lower. I’m way down near the bottom, so I can see, I see what it does to people. My daddy now. My daddy hasn’t worked in thirteen years, and he drinks more liquor than is good for him, but you know what? My daddy thinks he’s okay. Because he knows, whatever happens, he’s a white man, so no matter what, he can’t go down to the bottom of the heap. That’s for colored folks. My daddy thinks he hates them, but he doesn’t, not really. He needs them, do you see? He needs them because they’re the only thing my daddy has left, the only think he can look down…” His voice died away, and he turned back and looked into her face.

“I wanted so much…” He frowned. “I wanted so much for you to have a good time tonight. I wanted and I planned and it got all messed up, and…”

“Oh Billy. Hold me. Just hold me tight…” Helene stepped forward blindly, and his arms came around her hard. She bent her head head against his chest and the hammer of his heart and she cried. It seemed to her she cried for a long time; cried for herself and her mother and Billy and his daddy; cried for Alabama, and for being fifteen years old; cried because the moon shone on, and the trees moved in the breeze. All the time she cried, Billy never said a word. He just held her steadily, and rested his face against her hair. When, he finally, she stopped, he lifted her face up gently to his and looked into her eyes.

“I wish you were for me,” he said, his voice very gentle and very sad. “I wish I could you would be – ever. I’ve wished for it and even prayed for it, for just as long as I can remember. And tonight – I’d planned on telling you. How I felt. I thought .. I hoped. But I was kidding myself all along. I knew it all the time, maybe. He frowned and his kingfisher blue eyes were like stars. “I wished I could see into the future sometimes. See what’s going to happen to you. Because I don’t know where you’re going, but it’s going to be a long way from here. That I know. And I’d like for you to be safe and happy, where-ever it is. I’d like to think you’d remember. Remember me. The things we did…”


“I care for you.” He took her hand and held it, just for a moment. “Ever since you first came here. Ever since you were a little kid. You’re beautiful. And you’re special. There is no one else like you. When I look at you, it’s the sun and moon were shining up there in the same sky. That’s all. I just wanted you to know. It won’t change nothing. I don’t expect you to feel the same way. But I wanted you to know.”

Helene bent her head. She felt the tears start up behind her eyes.”

That’s some beautiful writing. Beauman, born in Devon, lived in the Southern USA for a while, and you can tell the experience really informed her writing. She got so much right. But mostly, the despair. Helene’s mother was always delusional, but she begins to disintegrate, and Beauman captures it perfectly.

Then several things happen very quickly. The first is, there’s a riot. The second is, Helene begins to see Ned Calvert. She never has sex with him, but she allows him to touch her breasts. The third is that her mother becomes pregnant by Ned Calvert and needs an (illegal) abortion. They need sixty dollars. So Helene asks Ned for it. Ned tells her to “be nice” to him for the money. Because she needs the money, she allows him to put his penis between her breasts and climax. She’s extremely cold – she’s no longer in her body. After it’s over she asks for the money and he says, “I’ve seen more tact in a New Orleans cathouse.” Then he only gives her fifty-five, with five on account, for the next time she’s “nice” to him. With the money in hand, her mother takes a bus to Montgomery to get the abortion.

While her mother is in Montgomery, Helene sees Billy walking down the street. She runs over to him. He has just been to the police station to give some testimony about what he saw during the riot. Ned Calvert, with several other men, drive by very slowly. Billy’s boss is in the car. He says, “You just lost yourself a job, boy.”

The tension is very high. Helene persuades him to go to the pond with her, to swim like they used to when they were kids. They undress and swim, then Helene climbs to the bank of the river. There, she wants him to be the first – to give him one pure thing in the world.

Helene looked up at him. His face looked gentle, and his eyes immeasurably sad. Slowly she lifted her arms and wound them around his neck, her breasts brushing his bare chest. She pressed her lips to his cheek, then softly against his mouth. Then she drew back.

“I know I’m right. I know I was never more right in my whole life.” Her blue eyes blazed up at him. “I know I could make you, Billy…”

“I know it too,” Billy smiled. “I understand. There’s no need for that.”

Gently he put his arms around her, then drew her down onto the ground beside him. He looked into her eyes then, as if there were something he wanted her to understand, something he couldn’t say.

“First and last.” He frowned slightly. “You were always that, Helene. Where I begin and where I end. That’s all. Tell me you know that.”

“I know.” Her voice broke.

“That’s all right then,” Billy said.

As he bent his head and kissed her lips, se heard a bird stir among the branches.

When they lay beside the pool, Billy had three hours left to live.

After Billy and Helene depart, she heard the shot ring out. She runs to him and sees he’s on the ground, dead.

Hours later, Cassie Wyatt, her mother’s boss, comes to tell her that her mother is back and she needs her. Helene rushes to her side. She’s very ill, and she’s in a convent – they knew she’d had an abortion and they took her in anyway. Her mother dies that night too. Cassie, out of kindness, gives Helene five hundred dollars and tells her to go home, go to England.

In Paris, Edouard has sworn off women after a night with a prostitute. It’s been three weeks and he knows he will go find another woman tonight. He doesn’t want “the” one; he doesn’t believe she exists. Just someone. That evening, he sees her standing outside a church. Helene has been to England – to her mother’s sister’s house in Devon – but her aunt doesn’t want her there. So she has come to Paris.

It is love at first sight. But Helene begins with a lie: her name. She doesn’t want Edouard to know her. She only wants him to know the woman she intends to become. She tells him she’s Helen Hartland, and she’s eighteen years old, from Devon, England. After dinner, he takes her to her rooming house. He is eager to see her again. He’s never felt this way, not even with Isobel. This is a funny and wry scene as he’s waiting:

Edouard climbed back into the Aston-Martin, drove at high speed back to St. Cloud, and there attempted to drown her memory in a bottle of Armagnac, and a night without sleep.

In the morning he sent to Hermes and bought the pair of gray kid gloves. Around the finger of one of them, he slipped a solitaire diamond ring. The diamond was a fifteen-carat stone, graded “D,” the highest classification for purity and color, and “IF,” internally flawless, for clarity. It had been cut by a master; it burned with a blue-white fire; it was the perfect marriage between nature and art.

He put the gloves and ring back in their box and closed the lid. Then he waited, in feverish anxiety, for six o’clock to come.

The next night, he arrives at the cafe where she works. She doesn’t seem surprised to see him. They go to dinner, then he takes her to his house in St. Cloud. After that, they are inseparable. She moves in with him. He has no qualms about showing her off, though it would be scandalous, but Helene knows she’s got a secret. Then, she realizes she has another secret. She’s pregnant.

She assumes it is Billy’s. Because she thinks Edouard won’t love her any more if she tells him about the baby, or the fact she’s lied about her name and where she’s from, she leaves in the middle of the night.

Edouard is obsessed. He doesn’t understand at all. Meanwhile, Helene is in Rome, with some indie film makers. She marries one of them – Lewis Sinclair – because the baby needs a father. She doesn’t respect Lewis, and thus it is easier to lie to him. The next five years are spent with Helene and Edouard obsessing about each other, making discreet inquiries about each other, and basically feeling that the other had moved on. One very affecting scene is when they miss each other by literal seconds when they return to the place where they met. Also, Edouard knows it is his baby. So every year, he sets aside some beautiful piece of jewelry for her (the girl is named Cat), certain that one day he’ll be able to be with her. Helene becomes a huge movie star.

She also returns to her small town in Alabama, and gets her revenge on Ned Calvert. Without him knowing, she had bought his bank loan and because he couldn’t pay, she was foreclosing on that big, pretty plantation. It’s a very satisfying scene.

Finally, five years after sneaking out of the house like a thief in the night, Helene realizes that Cat is Edouard’s baby. She writes him a letter. One afternoon, she ends her involvement with the weirdo indie film guys and comes home to a quiet house. She remembers that Cat is with the nanny, and she thinks they must leave this house – too many bad memories. She opens the living room door and:

Across the room, directly facing her, a man was sitting in a chair. He must have heard her footsteps because his attitude was listening and intent. Helene stopped. Across the room, Edouard rose silently to his feet.

They both stood still, looking at each other. The shock was so acute that Helene could not have moved, or spoken. She stared at him and the silence seemed to her clamorous, full of energy. Edouard lifted his hand and let it fall.

And of course they have a happily ever after.

Except. It’s not “ever” after. It’s seven years. They immediately return to France with Cat, and Cassie Wyatt who is now working as a nanny for Helene. They marry. They have two more children, both boys. And Edouard buys his friend Christian’s house to give Helene a real English garden – the one her mother always promised her.

Then when things are beautiful and good and your heart is soaring with joy… Sally Beauman once said she did not like happy endings. Oh no, she does not. She does not.

While Helene is in the Loire with the children, Edouard must go into Paris for some business with his attorney. He finds an old box, and in the old box is an agreement between his brother Jean-Paul and another man, and a young woman that Edouard vaguely recognizes. Jean-Paul got her pregnant and paid the man to marry her. And the child is Helene. She’s his niece.

Most people at this point squee with horror. I know I did. But I also didn’t because the book – it’s 838 pages long – explains this love as completely unique, and no matter what else, I desperately wanted them to be together. Each of those 838 pages made it perfectly clear that only they could make each other happy.

But of course, Edouard can not live with this knowledge. He burns all of the documents. Then, in his beloved Aston-Martin, he intentionally drives into an embankment and kills himself.

Oh lord, the pain of these next pages is just overwhelming; so overwhelming, in fact, I can’t even bear to write out specifically the details. The book ends as their young daughter Cat knows that she wants to design jewelry for her father’s company.

She doesn’t like happy endings, so she completely ravages you. For days, I spontaneously burst into tears when I read this. It has a power over me, a lifelong power. This and Gone With The Wind are the only two books that do.

When I die, I want to be buried with this book. This copy – the tattered, broken, yellowed copy – means more to me than any other explanation of love. It is the definition. Even if it isn’t literal, it conveys the love, joy and heartbreak. I stumbled onto it when I was a teenager. I am lucky to have known both Edouard and Helene for as long as I have.


  1. Atticus Hamilton says:

    What an amazing confession/review! About thirteen years ago someone suggested I take a young lady out on a date… she happened to be reading this book and I thought… wouldn’t she be surprised if I read the book too and then we would automatically have something to talk about! Somewhere a long the way I forgot the girl’s name, but the book I will have with me always. Since then I’ve convinced about six people to read it and the most recent one will probably finish it in about one week… she admits to being a slow reader… took her a while to even get into it but now when I see her… her face clouds over with anxiety that soon it will be over… and so… I thought… just for fun I would try to write a short sequel… something to cheer her up which you realize will be needed… Have never written a book before, but even if my sequel sucks… at least it will serve the purpose of amusing her… just that I tried and she will be reading something that… at least… contains a few of the names of the characters with whom she has become so enthralled.

    Thanks again for your thoughtful article!

  2. I too carry with me my yellowed, sticky taped, coverless version of Destiny. I too first read it when I was 15 and have read it many times since. The characters are so close to me I sometimes feel like I could pick up the phone and call them, and when I have that feeling I know it is time to revisit the book again. I always pray for the happy ending, and always turn the last page with a broken heart. It is such a consuming book, totally monopolising you while you are in its grip. Much like love

  3. Cara Ellison says:

    You described it perfectly. Just last night I opened it randomly and could not read more than a page or two because I just felt so sad, knowing how it ends. I want badly to write a sequel, in which Cat, at least, finds happiness in love.

  4. aislingbling says:

    I love the way you have beautifully expressed your feelings about Destiny. I too was 15-16 years old when I first read the book.That I was consumed by it would be an understatement.No other book (with the exception of Atlas Shrugged) ever held such a sway over my feelings. It took me 2 days of feverish reading to complete the book. Alas first few pages (numbering 20 i think) were missing and I still don’t know what transpired in the beginning. I am searching hard for the book to buy online (incidentally that’s how I stumbled upon your blog) . My copy is now literally in tatters from 6 years of repeated readings.:)

  5. Cara Ellison says:

    Thank you for the comment! I love to talk about Destiny. I think you can find it on Amazon. Which pages were missing? I can give you an idea of what happened if you want to know.

    • aislingbling says:

      My book starts from the part when Edouard’s dad fights with his mom and goes to join Resistance forces. Also I love the scene where Helene gets into Edouard’s car without a word! Oh I d give anything to find that kind of love:)

  6. Cara Ellison says:

    Oh yes. That scene when she gets in the car just resonates – all these years later. Okay let me find the book so I can tell you what happens. Gimme a minute.

  7. Cara Ellison says:

    Okay did you have the part when Jean Paul takes Edouard to see a courtesan?

  8. Loucrecia says:

    I read Destiny when I was 32 and fell in love with the book. 23 years laterI just reread the novel This book set the stage for my future. I have traveled to Rome, Florence, London, and Paris recently. Also, I now live in Alabama. My heart resonates with Edouard and Helene’. One of my favorite scenes was when He’lene’ came home and he Edouard was there waiting for her ..ending the 5 year search. Two star crossed lovers. Also, I was curious about Thad Angelini..he reminded me of Michael Moore. I love this book, Destiny! The author did an excellent job of providing detailed character development. I so loved the friend Christian. I could see him in his hats and white trousers. a delicious novel which has a special place in my heart.

  9. Cara Ellison says:


    So weird – I had the exact same image of Thad! That he looks like Michael Moore. And I can see Christian in his hats and pants.

    I think of the house, Quaires with the proper English garden, full of Helene and the children… but not Edouard. It kills me.

    This book just destroys me. I love it so much. That scene in Helene’s living room after five years… oh God, I’m going to cry just thinking about it.

    Such an amazing book.

  10. Loucrecia says:

    The character development for this book is what I believe draws us in. No details are spared as to how the characters look, walk, talk..we are in the room with them. Celestine is one such example. Can’t you see her..a rather guady woman. Kinda plump or Isobel slender and ever so elegant. I had forgotten that Eduardo had married her. And that Louise, she was mean!

  11. 😦 i also remember reading this when i was 15 yrs old and preparing for college. this is the first English novel i read aside from El Filibusterismo and Noli Me Tangere…

    😦 i really like this story… but not the ending…

    it made me burst into a pool of tears!

  12. els (for elisabeht) cools says:

    This book is my favourite of all times and though I did not read it more then twice: I never, ever read a book more then once. I always wondered whether the book was turned into a movie? Does anybody know?
    Sorry for the mistakes, English is not my motherlanguage.

  13. els (for elisabeht) cools says:

    mothertongue I mean

  14. Just wanted to join the club of tattered book lovers….my copy was in a box that made it through a flood with minor water damage, then through a break up with a girl whos eyes i imagine are similar to helenes, (she was the one who bought it and read it) also a house fire a few years later. This was all before i even read it. When I found it in the burnt debris and saw the title, I remembered the girl reading it, she would be laughing out loud one moment and crying the next. I remembered actually being jealous of her and the book they were so close. Anyways, i figured if with a name like that and all it had survived through i should probably read it. I was floored. I have read it many times since. Actually just hit a rough patch in my life and lost almost everything. But guess what is on my nightstand as i type…

    I like and agree with what most have said, although my reaction to this book is a bit different then what I have read in these posts. It makes me happy. The struggle that they over come and the patientce that Edward shows. The deep love they feel. The joy they bring to each other. The long road to happieness… It renews my belief in love and inspires me to work hard for the things you want. With hard work and dedication there isn’t much that cannot be obtained.

    As far as Edward is concerned…Im not hating but….it was a totally selfish move he made. He goes the whole book being so thoughtful and caring to those he loves, manipulative, yes, but caring and loving also. He should have discussed it with her or something. They already had a family, and it was before he knew…so there is no crying over spilled milk. It didnt seem like it was that much to overcome either.

    Does anyone know if she has written any other good books, or can someone recommend one that is close to as good as this book is. Until then Im reading it again…lol

  15. Claurice Lara says:

    Hello Cara,
    I was fascinated by this book. I found it by accident at an airport in 1988. I was on my way to Hawaii and needed a long book to read. I remember I enjoyed the book, but was devastated by the ending. I decided to read it again this summer, after seeing the title in another book I was reading. After a great loss, few broken hearts and 24 years later; this book takes on a whole new meaning or meaning, to the word love that is so often tossed around in our society. Sally Beauman’s writing is magical. She does not write a description of a scene, she envelops you and makes you feel the emotions, and leaves you with a certain longing. Everything in this book has meaning. The tarot cards, John Donne’s poem, and the left out dates, (birthdays, day of death). The only two dates that are clear are Billy’s death and the date on Edouard’s poem “The Anniversarie”. I literally spent a week re-reading the book and researching the answers to all the questions I had. On what date did Edouard died? I found where she gives us the year (1973). Why does she deliberately give us the 8/22/1941 date written on the poem? I believe all these dates have meaning, just as the cards do.
    I have racked my brain trying to find a better ending to this book, but after much soul searching I could not. I understood Edouard completely. There was no way he could ever touch her or live with her knowing she was his niece. Here on earth we assign a gender to our bodies, but the “SOUL”, has no gender. This is why such love crosses lifetimes.

    Thank you so much for your beautiful synopsis. Claurice

    • Destiny is such a special book. Claurice, like you I raed this book in the late 80’s. At that time I was in my 30’s. Last summer, I once again became enveloped in the lives of Edouard. A special book that wraps us up and sweeps us away. LOVE..this book is about love. I can see him standing in the den when he finally comes to her.. yes this is special book. Like you, after reading this book, I wanted to connect with others who felt the unleashing of emotions through this book. Magneta is the color that comes to mind when I reflect on Destiny!

  16. Cara Ellison says:

    Oh my God, yes! Another kindred soul. And that poem by Donne just devastated me, when Helene found it in the book. She felt Edouard was close, “as if he were standing in the same with her.” Oh my God I want to cry just thinking about it.

    I’ve obsessed about those dates too.

    I think about what Helene would have become. I do not think she’d ever marry again. I think Cat would have an amazing life.

    Thank you, Claurice, for your comment. I’ve been wanting to write something new about Destiny and you’ve given me the incentive to do it. THANK YOU.

  17. I read Destiny, loved it, and then read Dark Angel. It is to me what Destiny is to you. I have read it more than GWTW. I practically have it memorized, Constance Shawcross is fascinating. I wish Beauman would stop with the attempts to write stuff unlike Destiny and Dark Angel. She is great at that and needs to stick with it. I HATE her other books.

  18. Cara Ellison says:

    Dana, I know what you mean about the other books. They’re just okay. The older ones (Sextet, Lovers & Liars) are a little better than the Rebecca story she published a few years ago. It’s just maddening; I want to tell her to write more big, sweeping, passionate, heart-rending love stories set in England.

    I’ve read Dark Angel. I bought another copy last year and plan to read it again soon (it’s been YEARS since I read that book – I’m curious to see if it will hold up.)

    Sally Beauman is a marvelous author; I just wish she’d stick to the things that drive her fans wild.

  19. jonathan birchley says:

    Thank you Cara, for your wonderful commentary. I feel the same as many others, during the time I was reading “Destiny” the fate of Helene and Eduouard was the most important thing in my life. All the hours stolen from my work, my family, my friends so I could keep in their world, willing good things to happen …….

    Sally Beauman created a true masterpiece here, rarely do the characters come so alive as though they are real flesh and blood.

    At the end I was crushed. Of couse, as soon as I knew that he knew I knew what the outcome was going to be. But it didn’t make it any easier to bear. I kept thinking, if only the box had been lost forever, or destroyed.

    I might have read it again if it wasn’t for the ending, and I could never read any other book of hers. For me it could not come close, however good it was, I’d keep thinking of Edouard and Helene. I still do ….

  20. What a lovely review!

    I too read this book when I was 15, and I agree that it’s a great book.

    Another book that you might like is Barbara Taylor Bradford’s “A Woman of Substance.”

  21. I also read it as a teenager. Before he died, he kept thinking of how they could have no more children. And remember that woman who saw Helene and told Edouard that she looked like Jean-Paul?

  22. Cara Ellison says:

    Yep, at the dinner party. So heartbreakingly good.

  23. I have been trying to remember the name of this book for years. Thank you so much, now I must try and find a copy somewhere. It played a big part on my theories of true love

  24. Cara Ellison says:

    Tracy, it truly is an amazing, life-altering book.

  25. Loved this book too and have read it at least three times. I have had it a long, long time, its just one of those books with which you never want to part. But yes the end is devastating. Once Edouard dies its difficult to carry on reading, the rest seems so irrelevant – thats how strongly one feels for the character. Its no understatement when people say this book has an impact on their life.

  26. I feel like I just read the book again!! I too, discovered it as a teenager and still have that very first copy. I am 46 now and still I re-read it every few years. Your synopsis was absolutely spot-on. Thank you for taking the time. Now I have to go home and pull my copy off the shelf and start the journey again. Cheers!


  1. […] Jump to Comments I was just talking about this book! The broken spine was held together with a sliver of paper, and when I picked it up today, I guess I […]

  2. […] Jump to Comments This month, I ventured into Deep Love territory and wrote about my favorite book, Destiny by Sally Beauman. And I also wrote about how the spine of my copy broke, and then broke into two […]

  3. […] is the best possible news. [You can see proof of my fangirlism here and here and here and here and especially here and some more here and here. I just love her books so much. Her characters haunt me, particularly […]

  4. […] morning my attention was drawn to this post about the book Destiny by Sally Beauman. The post was written over three years ago, but people still find it and comment on it, and the […]

  5. […] found a used bookstore, and I found a miracle: an edition of Destiny by Sally Beauman that I had been looking for for YEARS. It felt like fate as soon as I had it in my […]

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