Circles of Time by Phillip Rock
Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks
Date published: January 2, 2013 (reprint edition)
Rating: 4.0 out of 5
Book Summary: A generation has been lost on the Western Front. The dead have been buried, a harsh peace forged, and the howl of shells replaced by the wail of saxophones as the Jazz Age begins. But ghosts linger—that long-ago golden summer of 1914 tugging at the memory of Martin Rilke and his British cousins, the Grevilles.
From the countess to the chauffeur, the inhabitants of Abingdon Pryory seek to forget the past and adjust their lives to a new era in which old values, social codes, and sexual mores have been irretrievably swept away. Martin Rilke throws himself into reporting, discovering unsettling political currents, as Fenton Wood-Lacy faces exile in faraway army outposts. Back at Abingdon, Charles Greville shows signs of recovery from shell shock and Alexandra is caught up in an unlikely romance. Circles of Time captures the age as these strongly drawn characters experience it, unfolding against England's most gracious manor house, the steamy nightclubs of London's Soho, and the despair of Germany caught in the nightmare of anarchy and inflation. Lives are renewed, new loves found, and a future of peace and happiness is glimpsed—for the moment.
My Thoughts: Circles of Time is the second book of the Greville Family trilogy by Phillip Rock. A few weeks ago I reviewed The Passing Bells (see review), the first book in the series. This second book covers the years 1921 through Christmas, 1923. England and other countries are coping with the detritus of the Great War and people are working to rebuild their lives. The Greville Family, like everyone else, was impacted by the war, experiencing their share of tragedy and loss. Now the family and their friends are trying to move forward. Phillip Rock maintains the integrity of the enjoyable people he introduced in The Passing Bells, while taking the next step in the characters’ respective evolutions. Rock also takes a minor, rather insignificant character from the early pages of The Passing Bells and gives him a more important role. I was surprised and delighted by this development, marveling at Rock’s ability to seamlessly weave this character into the story. A few new characters are also introduced. Werner Rilke is particularly unlikable, becoming significant for his subversive motives.
Martin Rilke is an American journalist who came to England in 1914 to tour Europe and never left. He is the nephew of Lady Hannah Greville and, as in the first book, he remains the character that connects everyone. He also continues to be my favorite. In this book he’s marked by pain and grief as a result of the war. He’s been hired to run the International News Agency, or INA, in London, and spends as much of his down time as possible at Abingdon Pryory, the home of Lord Greville and Lady Hannah. Once again, I was impressed by the way in which Phillip Rock moves the story along.
Martin has become extremely close to his Greville cousins Charles, Alexandra and William. In this book we learn more about them: how the war affected them and what they’re doing now as a result. Rock makes it clear how the impact of the war changed their perspective and the things Lord Greville’s children consider important.
Life at Abingdon Pryory is a throwback to an earlier, more traditional time. It’s all about long walks, picnics and horseback riding. It’s dressing up for dinner, where only light banter is permitted in place of heavy topics such as politics. Here the women leave the men to brandy and cigars when the meal is finished. This idyllic place stands in sharp contrast to life in London and other cities. Martin feels despair and concern reading the reports his journalists send from their posts in neighboring countries. What he experiences in London as well as Berlin and Munich is worse. There’s chaos and unrest in Germany, which is in financial crisis the effects of which ripple across Europe. And as political parties form and disband in Germany, it soon becomes clear The National Socialist German Workers’ Party formed by D. Eckhart and A. Hitler is the one to be concerned about.
Circles of Time is almost 100 pages shorter than The Passing Bells, which is unfortunate. The last quarter felt rushed. It seemed as if Rock tired of writing certain story-lines, so he jumped ahead many months in the life of one particular character. The rest of this character’s life we learn secondhand from another. Even more disappointing to me was the way in which Rock resolved another topic: dashing it off via a brief comment by another character. I was surprised since The Passing Bells was such a wonderful book. Still, I enjoyed Circles of Time, just not quite as much as Rock’s first book.
I’m looking forward to the final book in the Greville Family trilogy, The Future Arrived. Circles of Time ends with the reader learning that The National Socialist German Workers’ Party are called Nazis for short, and they’re creating quite a stir in Munich and Berlin. It’s the end of 1923 and even we, the readers, can feel the tension in the air. Rock does a splendid job tantalizing us with such an interesting ending that most readers won’t be able to resist reading the final book in this trilogy. I highly recommend Circles of Time. It’s a good book independent of The Passing Bells, but to get the full flavor of Phillip Rock’s wonderful saga, I recommend also reading The Passing Bells.