Circles of Time

Written by Phillip Rock
Review by Sarah Johnson

This second volume in Rock’s engrossing trilogy (after The Passing Bells) about the titled Grevilles of Abingdon Pryory in Surrey sees them, their relatives, and friends attempting to restart their lives after WWI. It’s 1921, and Martin Rilke, the Countess of Stanmore’s nephew from Chicago, has just been named European bureau chief for an American news agency. He also faces a libel charge for his no-holds-barred book about brutality and incompetence on the front lines. His beautiful, widowed cousin Alexandra has returned to the family fold, amid her father’s strong disapproval over her marriage, and embarks on a romance with someone who would have been considered unsuitable ten years ago.

Times have changed – the previous order has crumbled – and even Lord Stanmore finally opens his eyes to the possibilities of the era. His perspective offers a bridge between the old and the new. But even during the joyous optimism of the Roaring ′20s, with its jazz bands, aeroplanes, and unrepressed sexuality, a cloud of melancholy lingers. These characters are the ones who survived, and the novel brings home the impossibility of their leaving the past behind. This truth echoes powerfully in the thread involving Charles, the eldest son, whose slow emergence from shell-shock is greeted with relief by his loved ones. The somber portrait of post-Versailles Germany toward the novel’s end shows more trouble yet to come.

Circles of Time is a true epic that flows effortlessly.  Several poignant love stories are interwoven superbly with scenes of family drama, political strife in England and the Middle East, and depictions of the shifting mores that defined this energetic decade. It also reads as a potent anti-war novel, even with no battle scenes. Although it was first published over 30 years ago, and confidently evokes its setting, the prose exudes a crisp freshness that makes it seem like it was written yesterday. Not to be missed.