The Honourable Life of Thomas Chayne

Written by Cynthia Jefferies
Review by Douglas Kemp

Thomas Chayne is the eponymous narrator of this story, set in England in the troublesome first half of the 17th century. He is born in 1624 into a wealthy background, with a challenging and distant father who is an advisor to King Charles I, battling to assert his position against Parliament. At times, Thomas initially seems a little naïve, which can perhaps be put down to his young age, but he is a sturdy, steadfast and thoroughly decent chap with a conscience. He is a willing royalist participant in the struggle between King and Parliament, which erupts into unfettered and bloody civil war before Thomas reaches his 20th birthday. He is a brave fellow, but faces some unenviable dilemmas over loyalty and identity, which turn his whole word upside-down, along with wider society in the brutal conflict. He faces, as well, as a number of personal challenges which test his mettle to the uppermost.

The narrative is engaging and provides excellent historical background and context without the constant aroma of the lecture room accompanying Thomas Chayne’s peregrinations around the kingdom. The first person narrative is pitched well and takes the story along capably and with a good tempo. But, as is often reiterated, history doesn’t write white terribly well, and Thomas can be rather Little Lord Fauntleroy-ish in his clean conscience and determination to do whatever is morally correct. The numerous challenges throughout the narrative are faced and dealt with, and while he is a man very much of the 17th century, with their (to us) peculiarly unenlightened attitude to some issues, the reader occasionally wishes him to be a little less than the constantly honourable man.