Wednesday, January 9, 2013
Book Review: The Passing Bells by Phillip Rock
The guns of August are rumbling throughout Europe in the summer of 1914, but war has not yet touched Abingdon Pryory. Here, at the grand home of the Greville family, the parties, dances, and romances play on. Alexandra Greville embarks on her debutante season while brother Charles remains hopelessly in love with the beautiful, untitled Lydia Foxe, knowing that his father, the Earl of Stanmore, will never approve of the match. Downstairs the new servant, Ivy, struggles to adjust to the routines of the well-oiled household staff, as the arrival of American cousin Martin Rilke, a Chicago newspaperman, causes a stir.
But, ultimately, the Great War will not be denied, as what begins for the high-bred Grevilles as a glorious adventure soon takes its toll—shattering the household's tranquillity, crumbling class barriers, and bringing its myriad horrors home.
The first novel in Phillip Rock's Greville Family Saga, The Passing Bells, is a magnificent work of historical fiction that successfully captures the atmosphere and spirit of the age in which it is set. The novel opens in England in the summer of 1914, and even though Europe is poised on the brink of war, life continues on as usual at Abingdon Pryory, the stately home of the Earl of Stanmore and his family. After the War's outbreak, the general consensus is that Britain and her allies will enjoy a quick victory. Countless young men, including Charles Greville, heir to the Earldom of Stanmore, enthusiastically heed the call to arms and are dispatched to fight for King and country. Despite initial optimism, a conclusion to hostilities remains elusive and the spirit with which the participants began the war soon dissipates as the realities of the conflict set in. Back in England, the War brings an end to the nobility's golden age and ushers in a period of immense social change.
With well-developed characters, engaging story lines and a remarkable sense of time and place, The Passing Bells is a novel not to be missed. The early part of the book, which focuses primarily on the lives and loves of the Greville's and those closest to them prior to the outset of the War, provides an intimate look at the privileged lives of Britain's noble class. While the first part of the novel is entertaining, the greatest strength of this book rests with how well Rock has captured the War and the struggles of those who fought in it. Whether detailing character experiences in the trenches of the Somme, on a ship off the coast of Gallipoli, at a Casualty Clearing Station close to the Front, or in hospital recovering from wounds, Rock successfully conveys the horrors of WWI. For this reason it is not difficult to understand why the War had such a devastating and lasting effect on those who lived through it.
The Greville Family Saga continues in Circles of Time and A Future Arrived.
Recommended to all readers of historical fiction, especially those interested in novels set during the Edwardian era and WWI.
Note: The book comes from my own personal collection.