The Passing Bells by Phillip Rock
Author: Phillip Rock
Genre: Fiction (Historical / UK / 1910s / WWI / Country Estate / Social Class / War / PTSD / Journalism / Historical Figures Fictionalized)
Publisher/Publication Date: William Morrow Paperbacks (12/4/2012)
Source: TLC Book Tours
Did I finish?: Yes!
One-sentence summary: An epic novel following the intertwined lives of the rich and working class from 1914 to 1920.
Reading Challenges: Historical Fiction
Do I like the cover?: Love.It. I'm a sucker for eye candy, and this is just lovely, like a still from a film.
I'm reminded of...: Anya Seton, Louisa Young
First line: The dawn came early, tinting a cloudless sky the palest shade of green.
Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: Borrow or buy.
Why did I get this book?: The cover!
Review: Given the Downton Abbey craze, I was apprehensive about this trilogy: was it any good or just a marketing ploy to cash in while DA is hot?
Thankfully, happily, awesomely, this book is good. Great. Another meaty hist fic that satisfies. This review, however, is probably going to be a hot mess, because how do I describe what is contained in these 500+ pages without just squeeing stupidly? Here goes:
The novel follows a few families and tangential individuals from 1914 through 1920, and at first, the enormous cast was be a bit overwhelming. There are the rich, titled, old money families, the wealthy trade families who are trying to gain their own social standing, the working class, the serving class, and everything in between.
As a result, this book is massive, in size, cast, and scope. Still, I loved every frickin' page. It's the kind of epic book I love to snuggle up with and devour over a weekend, and devour I did -- I was sneaking reads as often as I can. (I recommend not putting this down for any length of time -- given the size of the cast, it could be very easy to forget who is who.)
Opening at the beautiful, bucolic country estate of Abingdon Pryory, the reader basks in the refined dramas of the titled rich -- marriages, love affairs, training house hold staff -- before widening to incorporate a wider lens. As the residents of Abingdon Pryory move to London for the season, we meet the educated tradesmen, American relatives, reporters, and politicians. Then war strikes and everything changes.
Rock's writing style reminded me of the 'classic' historical fiction I love. There's a little romance -- some vague intimations of sex among the younger set -- and a leeetle bit of philosophic ruminations on war and violence. As this was originally written in the late 1970s, Rock has some distance from the era to insert a little sharp and wry commentary and observation. Early on, for example, one of his characters muses about the inequality of marrying American heiress made rich from trade while an Englishwoman with a successful merchant father is completely out of the picture. It's a darkly funny moment and this novel is punctuated with that -- the hypocrisy and beauty of the pre-World War I era.
Rock's characters do change and shift and I liked them, all of them. Some are selfish, some are jerks, some are badly behaved -- but I found all of them to be real and settled in their 'place' -- even as their place shifted as time went on. (Rock conveys that shift so very well -- when one of the titled rich girls seeks out her former maid, now a nurse, their interaction is painful and striking.)
If you like family sagas, this is your book -- while I normally bristle now at sequels, I am bouncing with excitement for the second book. I don't want to leave these people yet.
*** *** ***
I'm thrilled to offer all three books of The Passing Bells trilogy -- made up of The Passing Bells, Circles of Time, and A Future Arrived -- to one lucky reader!
To enter, fill out this brief form. You'll have a chance to enter each time I review a book in the trilogy. Open to US/CA readers, ends 3/1. For another entry, see my review of Circles of Time and my review of A Future Arrived.