Fiction on the front line

Good prose, pity about the poetry, says Philippa Gregory: Patrimony by Jane Thynne, Fourth Estate, pounds 9.99

The trick of any sort of whodunit or who-is-it novel is the sly revelation of clues to the reader without blowing the plot altogether. Equally, if one is to create any faith in the hero, then he or she has to be at least one jump ahead. In the case of Patrimony the reader is bellowing "Look Behind you!" from about page 150, but the heroine remains stubbornly unaware. Heavy breathing on her answer phone, four burglaries which no one reports to the police, the disappearance of a colleague, all fail to disturb our heroine with the notion that something is Up.

What is Up is the slow uncovering of a secret history of a World War One poet, a contemporary of Sassoon and Owen. Disastrously, his poetry is quoted in the novel:

He vowed to serve his country

For King and common good

But no pledge prepared him for the foe he met

Stumbling out there in the mud

Advice to all non-poet authors: never invent poetry and hail it as great literature. The exception to this rule is Antonia Byatt.

This flaw is compounded as the plot hinges on our heroine correctly identifying other newly-discovered poetry as the ghastly doggerel of the poet's talentless daughter:

Like the barrel of a gun in the hand of a spy

The sun regards us with a dispassionate eye

We're in the unambiguous world of After

Where the cloudless landscape doesn't lie.

Well, search me, but I thought that they were both equally awful and thus no clue at all.

Thynne's ear for her own prose is erratic. There is some genuinely fine writing, but the reader is thrown off course by a sudden phrase of teeth- gritting awfulness. Our heroine "shunned the rites of reconciliation" which means, I suppose, that she refused a solacing screw, a beneficent bonk, a forgiving f*** - alliteration is a terrible thing.

We are on safer ground with the unfolding of the two stories that make the body of the novel. The contemporary story is that of Elsa, who works in an independent film production company and wants to make a film about the World War One poet, Valentine Siddons. Her discovery of the mystery behind the legend leads her into a personal discovery too - of the man she is ready to love. It is a simple romance but it is told with conviction and verve.

Their story is intertwined with that of the poet himself, who marries young and foolishly, loves an older and selfish woman, and goes to his death at Passchendaele. The two stories are told alternately, and inevitably there is a drift of interest towards the story of love, frustration and death, and away from the lighter notes of the modern story. Contemporary life has less glamour than prewar Edwardian England, the issues for Valentine Siddons are graver than those of his modern-day biographers.

When the poet is sent forward to the front line, the narrative takes a darker and powerful turn. This part of the novel is excellently researched and movingly told. Thynne has the ability to paint a landscape, and explore a character, and her skills are well-deployed in the poignant descriptions of a countryside and men destroyed by war. Elsa, the modern heroine, speaks from the heart when she says that to make a romantic and rosy picture of such a past is to betray the dead who were forced to their deaths in a war that was neither rosy nor romantic. Thynne can congratulate herself on this: that she has been true to her heroine's standards. She has not written a "dreadful sepia-tinted love story", "all passion and haircuts", but a thoughtful and powerful account of a war which still casts a shadow today.

Arts and Entertainment

art
Arts and Entertainment
Rupert Murdoch and Rebekah Brooks in 2011

Review: A panoramic account of the hacking scandal

books
Arts and Entertainment
Comedian Jack Dee has allegedly threatened to quit as chairman of long-running Radio 4 panel show 'I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue'

Edinburgh Festival
Arts and Entertainment
Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux play teeneage lovers in the French erotic drama 'Blue Is The Warmest Colour' - The survey found four times as many women admitting to same-sex experiences than 20 years ago

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Director Paul Thomas Anderson (right) and his movie The Master featuring Joaquin Phoenix

film
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
<p><strong>Laura
Carmichael- Lady Edith Crawley</strong></p>
<p>Carmichael currently stars as Sonya in the West End production of
Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya at the Vaudeville Theatre. She made headlines this autumn
when Royal Shakespeare Company founder Sir Peter Hall shouted at her in a
half-sleepy state during her performance. </p>
<p>Carmichael made another appearance on the stage in 2011, playing
two characters in David Hare’s <em>Plent</em>y
at the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield. </p>
<p>Away from the stage she starred as receptionist Sal in the 2011
film <em>Tinker Tailor Solider Spy</em>. </p>

TV
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Zoe Saldana admits she's

TV
Arts and Entertainment
'Old Fashioned' will be a different kind of love story to '50 Shades'
film
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
The Great British Bake Off contestants line-up behind Sue and Mel in the Bake Off tent

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Mitch Winehouse is releasing a new album

music
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Beast would strip to his underpants and take to the stage with a slogan scrawled on his bare chest whilst fans shouted “you fat bastard” at him

music
Arts and Entertainment
On set of the Secret Cinema's Back to the Future event

film
Arts and Entertainment
Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pedro Pascal gives a weird look at the camera in the blooper reel

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Public vote: Art Everywhere poster in a bus shelter featuring John Hoyland
art
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Griffin holds forth in The Simpsons Family Guy crossover episode

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Judd Apatow’s make-it-up-as-you-go-along approach is ideal for comedies about stoners and slackers slouching towards adulthood
filmWith comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
Arts and Entertainment
booksForget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Arts and Entertainment
Off set: Bab El Hara
tvTV series are being filmed outside the country, but the influence of the regime is still being felt
Arts and Entertainment
Red Bastard: Where self-realisation is delivered through monstrous clowning and audience interaction
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
O'Shaughnessy pictured at the Unicorn Theatre in London
tvFiona O'Shaughnessy explains where she ends and her strange and wonderful character begins
Arts and Entertainment
The new characters were announced yesterday at San Diego Comic Con

TV
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
    Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

    How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

    As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
    We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

    We will remember them

    Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
    Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
    Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

    Acting in video games gets a makeover

    David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
    Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

    Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

    Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
    Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

    Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

    Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
    Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

    Spanx launches range of jeans

    The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
    10 best over-ear headphones

    Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

    Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
    Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

    Commonwealth Games

    David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end
    UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2014: Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings

    UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

    Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings
    Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

    Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
    Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

    Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

    How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
    Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

    From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

    He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star