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Posts Tagged ‘phillip rock’

a future arrived

Source: Review copy from William Morrow
Rating: ★★★★★

He thought suddenly of Abingdon Pryory, that summer evening after dinner…Lord Stanmore rising to give a toast.  Dear friends and gentle hearts.  The words ran through his head like a litany as the taxi crawled through the traffic toward the railway station.  Dear friendsgentle hearts…words so meaningless in this time — in this place.

(from A Future Arrived, page 193)

A Future Arrived, first published in 1985, is the last book in Phillip Rock’s trilogy about the Greville family of the English manor house Abingdon Pryor during World War I and World War II.  I loved the first two books, The Passing Bells and Circles of Time, and given my attachment to the characters, I couldn’t help but love this one as well.  A Future Arrived spans the years 1930 to 1940, focusing on Hitler’s rise to power and the outbreak of another world war.  Rock once again focuses on Martin Rilke, world famous journalist and nephew of Hanna Greville, the Countess of Stanmore, with other beloved characters from the first two books making appearances.

However, two decades have passed since WWI and the events of the first novel, and the children of the men and women who came of age then take their place in the spotlight.  Martin Rilke’s brother-in-law, Albert Thaxton, wants to be a journalist and follow in his footsteps, and the chaotic events prior to and including WWII offer plenty of opportunities.  The Wood-Lacy twins, Jennifer and Victoria, as different as night and day, and their younger sister, Kate, along with Alexandra Greville’s son, Colin, and Charles Greville’s former student, Derek Ramsey, like their parents before them, are forced to learn about life and love in the midst of war.

A Future Arrived was a difficult book to put down, but at the same time, I didn’t want to rush through it because I knew I was going to have a hard time letting these characters go.  Although I longed for more time with the characters I’d grown to love since the first book, I understood the need for the torch to be passed and to view the wartime struggles from the eyes of the characters at the forefront.  At the same time, Rock also shows how those who remember the Great War deal with the prospect of another, and he continues to shine a light on social class, sexuality, and the role of women, which changed so much in response to WWI.  The scope of this trilogy is so big, so ambitious, yet focusing on one family navigating the changes brought by two wars makes it manageable.

If I had one complaint about this book it would be that it seemed to cover too much time, too quickly.  There were two books to get to know the other characters, but this is the only book that really focuses on the children and grandchildren, so the shift from their pre-teen years to their twenties occurs pretty fast.  In fact, the first third or so of the book is set in 1930, with a single chapter to bring readers up to speed before Book 2, which begins in 1938.  Yet, I loved the characters and the book anyway.

The period between the world wars was a tumultuous time, and Rock brilliantly captures the chaos in A Future Arrived.  Of course, I couldn’t keep myself from crying as I ended this trilogy.  These are characters I will not forget and stories that will linger in my mind for a long time.  These are books that have made it on my list of favorites and my shelf of definite re-reads.  They exemplify what I love the most about historical fiction and why I find this period in history so fascinating.  This last installment was 450 pages, but it could easily have been longer and I wouldn’t have minded one bit.

Thanks to TLC Book Tours for having me on The Passing Bells trilogy tour. To follow the tour, click here.

historical fiction reading challenge

Book 5 for the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge

Disclosure: I received A Future Arrived from William Morrow for review.

© 2013 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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circles of time

Source: Review copy from William Morrow
Rating: ★★★★★

There were still belts of rusted barbed wire to be seen, and here and there the burned-out hull of a tank entombed in a grassy mound that had once been putrid mud.  Woods of shell-splintered stumps were growing again.  A greenness had crept over the land, a blanket of grass and vine, sapling and leaf, to hide the places where a generation had been butchered.

(from Circles of Time, page 4)

Circles of Time, originally published in 1981, is the second book in a trilogy by Phillip Rock about the Greville family from the time of World War I into World War II.  I loved The Passing Bells, which spans the years of the Great War and all the changes it brought about.  Circles of Time opens in 1921, as Anthony Greville, Lord Stanmore, tries desperately to hold onto the old way of life by rebuilding Abingdon Pryory, the English manor house whose fall into disrepair symbolized the changes in the social class structure brought about by the war.

While Lord Stanmore pines for the good old days, the rest of his family struggles with the consequences of the war and the role they played in it.  His daughter, Alexandra, made some choices he cannot forgive, and she doesn’t expect to find happiness again.  Her brother, Charles, fights to recover the memories he has repressed, and their younger brother, William, unsure what to do with his life, drowns his pain in drink, jazz, and women.

Meanwhile, Colonel Fenton Wood-Lacy opposes the efforts to force him out of the army, even when he is sent far from his family to the deserts of Iraq.  The Greville’s cousin, Martin Rilke, won a Pulitzer for his journalistic coverage of the war, but now he must work his way through grief and contend with people who still are not ready for the truth as depicted in his book, A Killing Ground.  And Jamie Ross, the Greville’s former chauffeur, returns to England after achieving business success in America, exemplifying how the war enabled some lower-class people to work their way up the social ladder.

Circles of Time is mostly about how the “war to end all wars” ushered in a new age, from the jazz clubs and women realizing more sexual freedom to the rampant inflation in post-war Germany that led to widespread poverty and the rise of Hitler and the National Socialists.  Martin’s trips to Berlin and Bavaria toward the end of the book foreshadow the events that will transpire in the last book of the trilogy, as the nations move toward a second world war when the wounds caused by the first have barely healed.  Rock was a fantastic writer, bringing the post-World War I landscape to life, all the chaos and the change, and letting readers tag along while the characters they have grown to love evolve with the times.

Even while the world is swiftly moving forward, Rock doesn’t let readers forget about the massive loss of life, the destruction of the landscape, and the veterans with missing limbs or shell shock left behind by the Great War.  Through the character of Martin, a German-American with family in both England and Germany, Rock shows readers the impact of the war on the winning and losing sides and how people prospered and despaired on both.  Circles of Time is highly recommended for historical fiction fans, with its captivating characters and unflinching portrayal of people and nations in turmoil and how one horrific war led to another.

Thanks to TLC Book Tours for having me on The Passing Bells trilogy tour. To follow the tour, click here.

historical fiction reading challenge

Book 2 for the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge

Disclosure: I received Circles of Time from William Morrow for review.

© 2013 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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the passing bells

Source: Review copy from William Morrow
Rating: ★★★★★

The wind, tugging at the windows, rattling them in their frames, howled and shrieked under the eaves, reminding him of the demented sound of shells.  He pressed his face into the soft hollow between her breasts as she clasped him tightly, as if to shield him on this first day of the year from all the days to follow.

(from The Passing Bells, page 390)

The Passing Bells, first published in 1978, is the first in a trilogy by the late Phillip Rock that follows the Greville family from 1914 into the 1930s.  This first installment, which spans the years 1914 to 1920, is a pretty ambitious undertaking, following several people connected to one family as their lives are upended by the Great War.  But Rock enables readers to get to know and understand the inner workings of each of his characters over the course of 516 pages, and when I turned the last page, I was glad I didn’t have to say goodbye to them all just yet.

In the summer of 1914, the Grevilles are living a carefree life at Abingdon Priory, preparing for Alexandra’s debutante season in London.  Alexandra is excited about the teas and dances, the dresses, and the prospect of choosing a husband from her mother Hanna’s carefully compiled list of eligible bachelors.  Her father, Anthony, the Earl of Stanmore, lives for his horses and waits for the day when his heir, Charles, realizes he cannot marry Lydia Foxe, a childhood friend from an untitled family whose money comes from a string of tea shops.  Lydia has one eye on Charles and all he will inherit and the other eye on Fenton Wood-Lacy, the son of a knighted architect and a close friend of the Grevilles who must marry for money to maintain his upscale lifestyle as an officer in the Coldstream Guards.  The Grevilles’ lives are momentarily disrupted by the arrival of Martin Rilke, Hanna’s nephew from Chicago, a journalist with plans to tour Europe on his meager savings and work on his novel, and he’s fascinated by one of the Grevilles’ maids, Ivy Thaxton, who fumbles at her new job but appears destined for more than a life of service.

When World War I breaks out, there is this sense of excitement, and everyone expects the war to be over in a matter of months.  The Grevilles don’t realize the war marks the beginning of the end of their way of life.  Charles, Fenton, and Fenton’s brother, Roger, go off to war; Alexandra, in her stunning, tailored uniforms, joins the Voluntary Aid Detachment; Martin writes from the front lines; and Ivy and most of the other servants at Abingdon Priory leave to join the war effort. Lord Stanmore watches his estate fall into disrepair without the order and organization of his servants, which is symbolic of the weakening of the British social class structure brought about by the war.  The war empowered women, as evidenced by Lydia’s political scheming and Alexandra’s wartime romance, and it forever changed the idealistic soldiers who went into the trenches as exuberant boys and, if they were lucky to survive, emerged as old men who had seen too much of the dark side of human nature.

Rock accomplished so much in The Passing Bells.  The first 100 pages or so introduces all the characters and the ways in which they are connected, and I thought the novel was going to be heavy on the romance.  But when war breaks out, the book takes on a different tone, and the characters start moving in different directions.  Rock ultimately covers the war on many fronts.  He follows the male characters into the trenches and shows how hundreds of thousands of men died because of politics and bad decisions made by high-ranking officials who were out of touch with what was happening on the battlefield.  He shows how young journalists committed to telling the truth as it happened where thwarted at every turn.  But most of all, Rock shows how the war changed everyone, from women who went from caring only about clothes and dancing to caring for men who had their faces blown off and men who went from caring about social status and reputation to caring only about disseminating the truth.

The Passing Bells is truly an epic novel of the “war to end all wars” that shows how the war ushered in change on all levels.  Rock’s characters were so tenderly crafted and so wonderfully complex that I could understand them all even when I didn’t like them.  Their relationships and entanglements felt true to the chaos of the time, and the battle scenes had just the right amount of description to emphasize the horror and the confusion without going overboard on the violence or the military maneuvering.  I was worried about the novel being long and plodding, but I breezed through it and can’t wait to follow the characters through the next two books.

Thanks to TLC Book Tours for having me on The Passing Bells trilogy tour. To follow the tour, click here.

historical fiction reading challenge

Book 1 for the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge

Disclosure: I received The Passing Bells from William Morrow for review.

© 2013 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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