Six months after her husband's sudden death, Leonora Galloway sets off for a holiday in Paris with her daughter Penelope. At last the time has come when secrets can be shared and explanations begin...
Their journey starts with an unscheduled stop at the imposing Thiepval Memorial to the dead of the Battle of the Somme near Amiens. Amongst those commemorated is Leonora's father. The date of his death is recorded and 30th April, 1916. But Leonora wasn't born until 14th March 1917.
Penelope at once supposes a simple wartime illegitimacy as the clue to her mother's unhappy childhood and the family's sundered connections with her aristocratic heritage, about which she has always known so little.
But nothing could have prepared her, or the reader, for the extraordinary story that is about to unfold.
From the Paperback edition.
Set in England during and after WW I, this is the story of three generations: the two Leonoras, mother and child (and their husbands, both handsome, adoring, young army officers), and of Penelope, who at length unravels the twisted skeins of her mother's and grandmother's past to discover herself. In the prologue, the younger Leonora, now a grandmother, takes her daughter Penelope to France to visit the memorial to those killed on the Somme in 1916. Her father, Captain John Hallows is listed there, but, Leonora points out, he died more than a year before her birth. By way of explanation, Leonora relates the story of her childhood as an orphan in the mansion of Meonsgate sp ok in Hampshire, under the tyranny of her greedy, power-hungry step-grandmother. Young Leonora eventually escapes to a happy marriage and finally discovers the truth about her parentsespecially about her mother, who had been described to her as a whorethrough the device of a stranger's tale: not an ancient mariner's, but an old soldier's. But there is more, and Penelope is the one who hears the true storyor is it? Goddard ( Past Caring ) has crafted a marvelously intricate plot, deftly and subtly unveiling, through different narrative voices, the mystery at the core of this intense, shocking tale. 50,000 first printing; $50,000 ad/promo; Literary Guild alternate.
Copyright 1988 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
-- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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May 28, 2007
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Excerpt from In Pale Battalions by Robert Goddard
Childhood memories fit their own intricate pattern. They cannot be made to conform to the version of our past we try to impose upon them. Thus I could say that Lord and Lady Powerstock and the home they gave me at Meongate more than compensated for being an orphan, that a silver spoon easily took the place of my mother's smile. I could say it--but every recollection of my early years would deny it.
Meongate must once have been the crowded, bustling house of a cheerful family, as the Hallowses must once have been that family. Every favour of nature in its setting where the Hampshire downs met the pastures of the Meon valley, every effort of man in its spacious rooms and landscaped park, had been bestowed on the home of one small child.
Yet it was not enough. When I was growing up at Meongate in the early 1920s, most of its grandeur had long since departed. Many of the rooms were shut up and disused, much of the park turned over to farmland. And all the laughing, happy people I imagined filling its empty rooms and treading its neglected lawns had vanished into a past beyond my reach.
I grew up with the knowledge that my parents were both dead, my father killed on the Somme, my
mother carried off by pneumonia a few days after my birth. It was not kept from me. Indeed, I was constantly reminded of it, constantly confronted with the implication that I must in some way bear the blame for the shadow of grief, or of something worse, that hung over their memory. That shadow, cast by the unknown, lay at the heart of the cold, dark certainty that also grew within me: I was not wanted at Meongate, not welcomed there, not loved.
It might have been different had my grandfather not been the grave, withdrawn, perpetually melancholic man that he was. I, who never knew him when he was young, cannot imagine him as anything other than the wheelchair-bound occupant of his ground-floor rooms, deprived by his own morbidity, as much as by the lingering effects of a stroke, of all warmth and fondness. When Nanny Hiles took me, as she regularly did, to kiss him goodnight, all I wanted to do was escape from the cold, fleeting touch of his flesh. When, playing on the lawn, I would look up and see him watching me from his window, all I wanted to do was run away from the mournful, questing sadness in his eyes. Later, I came to sense that he was waiting, waiting for me to be old enough to understand him, waiting in the hope that he would live to see that day.
Lady Powerstock, twenty years his junior, was not my real grandmother. She was buried in the village churchyard, another ghost whom I did not know and who could do nothing to help me. I imagined her as everything her successor was not--kind, loving and generous--but it did me no good. Olivia, the woman I was required to address as Grandmama in her place, had once been beautiful and, at fifty, her looks were still with her, her figure still fine, her dress sense impeccable. That we were not related by blood explained, to my satisfaction, why she did not love me. What I could not explain was why she went so far as to hate me, but hate me she undoubtedly did. She did not trouble to disguise the fact. She let it hover, menacing and unspoken, at the edge of all our exchanges, let it grow as an awareness between us, a secret confirmation that she too was only waiting, waiting for death to remove her husband and with him any lingering restraint on her conduct towards me. There was an air of practised vice about her that was to draw men all her life, an air of voluptuous pleasure at her own depravity that made her hatred of me seem merely instinctive. Yet there was always more to it than that. She had drawn some venom from whatever part she had played in the past of that house and had reserved it for me.