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.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Anthony Hopkins in Westworld

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rock and role: Jamie Bell's character Benjamin Grimm is transformed into 'Thing' in the film adaptation of Marvel Comics' 'Fantastic Four'
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Katie Hopkins veered between sycophancy and insult in her new chat show
TV review
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
In his role as Hamlet, Benedict Cumberbatch will have to learn, and repeat night after night, around 1,480 lines

Theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Belgian sexologist Goedele Liekens with pupils at Hollins Technology College in Accrington
TV review
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Judges Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The rapper Drake

music
Arts and Entertainment
The gaffer: Prince Philip and the future Queen in 1947
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Style icons: The Beatles on set in Austria
film
Arts and Entertainment
By Seuss! ‘What Pet Shall I Get?’ hits the bookshops this week
Books
Arts and Entertainment
The mushroom cloud over Hiroshima after Enola Gray and her crew dropped the bomb
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Elliott outside his stationery store that houses a Post Office
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Rebecca Ferguson, Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible Rogue Nation

Film review Tom Cruise, 50, is still like a puppy in this relentless action soap opera

Arts and Entertainment
Rachel McAdams in True Detective season 2

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Off the wall: the cast of ‘Life in Squares’

TV
Arts and Entertainment

Books And it is whizzpopping!

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

    Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

    Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
    Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

    'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

    Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
    Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

    BBC heads to the Californian coast

    The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
    Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

    Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

    Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
    Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

    Car hacking scandal

    Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
    10 best placemats

    Take your seat: 10 best placemats

    Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
    Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

    Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

    Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
    Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

    Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

    Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
    Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

    Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

    The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
    Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

    Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

    His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
    Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

    Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

    Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future
    Berlusconi's world of sleaze: The astonishing lifestyle once enjoyed by Italy's former PM

    Berlusconi's world of sleaze

    The astonishing lifestyle once enjoyed by Italy's former PM
    Disney plans galactic domination with endless Star Wars spin-offs

    Disney plans galactic domination with endless Star Wars spin-offs

    Films and theme parks are just the beginning. Disney believes its control of the now decades-old franchise can bring in merchandise and marketing millions for years to come
    Could the golden age of the gaming arcade ever be revived in the era of the Xbox?

    Could gaming arcades be revived?

    The days when coin-ops were the only way to play the latest video games are gone. But a small band of enthusiasts are keeping the button-pushing dream alive
    Edinburgh Fringe 2015: The 'tampon tax' has inspired a new wave of female comedians to reclaim period jokes

    Heard the one about menstruation?

    Yes, if you have been at the Fringe, where period pieces are taking centre stage