Phillip Rock is a master at communicating the emotion of the moment and the feel of the novel through the setting of the scene. The Passing Bells opens in June 1914, and immediately the reader feels, not a sense of foreboding, but a sure and certain sense that we are watching the unfolding of the last days of an entire way of life. The 9th Earl of Stanmore wakes to the sound of the house coming to life around him as the servants take up their duties for the day. And in the homely sounds of dishes clacking, water running, and footsteps on the stairs, we hear the final moments of the way it used to be.
There is still some time left of course, but the war is drawing ever closer, and by the time August comes, and Rock writes of groups of young men roaming the streets of London in the evening, not rowdy, just afraid to be alone, driven by a strange restlessness, we begin to fear the future, to be drawn out of the thrum of every day life and remember that soon, the trenches will be dug.
I haven’t finished the book, and this is not a review, exactly, but just some notes on the scenes that Rock sets and how a few words can catch the feel of the scene, the mood of the times, and foreshadow what is to come.