In the tumultuous aftermath of the First World War the Wilson brothers head in opposite directions: Richard, interned in Austria throughout the conflict, returns to England; Edward, a junior officer, is dispatched from Italy to Vienna as part of the British Army s relief mission.
For Edward, it will be a return to the city and to love. But it will not be the same city: Vienna is no longer the administrative heart of an Empire, merely a provincial capital ravaged by starvation, and paralysed by the winter snows. Will it be the same love?
In London, Richard is employed in the ministerial heart of government and soon dazzled by the Under Secretary s vision for a new, federal Europe. But for the new to exist the old must be replaced; and the Habsburg Emperor, on his estate near the Czech border, revolution all around, refuses to go. One man is sent to make sure that he does.
With the brothers estranged by distance and time, their lives become unknowingly entwined in a shadowy plot and it seems the end of the war is only the beginning of their struggle.
I read this fantastic read during a lovely break in Northumberland in a cottage in the grounds of a ‘big house’ where I could enjoy myself drifting back into history and reliving the past through this gripping and immersive read. It was really well written and I absolutely fell for its charms; this book provided me with much food for thought about this turbulent time in history and my husband has nabbed it now as he was intrigued by my lunchtime updates about how much I was enjoying it.
The Passing Tribute is a fascinating read, describing life between the wars when Britain had a great deal of thinking to do about what kind of country we were and how the social changes both within the country and internationally were changing life almost unrecognisably from the certainties that existed in pre-war Edwardian England.
This is a time period that I didn’t really know that much about – I love this kind of novel, where I finish it and end up on Google for hours, researching the book’s time period and poring over maps and photos of the real events that have been portrayed in its pages. I love the three Sarah Waters books set in this period and was intrigued to enter this era from a more male and political point of view.
This gripping novel takes us back in time to the aftermath of the Great War, where the Wilson brothers lives are moving in diverse directions – Richard returning to Britain and Edward off again to Europe as part of our relief force. The situations that they each encounter have enormous ramifications and you cannot fail to be pulled into their stories as you read on and uncover what befalls them.
The novel is written in four individual sections, which I really enjoyed – The first section is written from Edward’s point of view after the First World War when he’s stationed in Vienna; which had been the heart of the Austro-Hungarian Empire as it attempts to rebuild itself after the devastation of war. Edward is sent there to help establish our British Army’s relief effort and finds himself having to re-engage with a past he thought he’d left firmly behind as a consequence.
The next section depicts the story of Edward’s brother Richard, who was captured and imprisoned during the war but is now safely back in England. He was at one time a journalist, but after seeing the effects of war on truth and justice he’d prefer to be in charge of whatever truth is to be printed, rather than being told what to write instead and pursues this through a new post as Assistant Secretary at the Ministry of X in London.
Both brothers find themselves irrevocably altered by war and the present day does not allow either of them to fully escape from their complicated past. In the final two sections of this novel, we follow history knowing the outcome and understanding fully that the world they knew before the war is gone forever. This allows us to watch history take shape before our eyes – seeing the storm clouds gathering on the horizon as WWII begins to be a real possibility.
If you follow my blog, you’ll know that I really love a novel where you explore events from more than one perspective. I think that Marshall is equally skilled at portraying the characters of Edward and Richard and their characters both come to life for the reader as you get tangled up in the real-life events of the novel. He paints a vivid portrait of their struggles to survive in a turbulent time in history. I hate including spoilers so all I’ll say is that their characters definitely put them in situations in this historical period that will draw you in and keep you turning the pages to see what role history had in store for both of them.
The way that this epic novel brings the war and its effects on human lives so vividly to life on the page made me totally lose myself in this tale over Easter. I just couldn’t tear myself away from the intriguing plot and emerging sense of momentum as the plot they are involved in begins to become more clear. The fact that my school is a military one where we have just celebrated our centenary lent The Passing Tribute an added poignancy for me and made me realise that even though this is a novel, the stories it tells were very much a reality for thousands of people between the wars – who found themselves in a world where everything certain had altered forever leaving them in an unfamiliar world where their sense of navigation was no longer quite as useful as it had been.
If you love a historical read that brings this fascinating and often overlooked period vividly to life and enjoy being totally immersed in a powerful and vivid narrative then you’ll love The Passing Tribute. It’s a powerful story and I found myself quite bereft as it drew to a close, knowing as I did that even though Edward and Richard were fictional characters, they’d really lived for me whilst I was lost in the book. I will definitely look out for more from Simon Marshall as the balance of historical detail and wonderful characterisation was a winning combination for me.
I would like to thank Anne Cater and Unbound Digital for inviting me to participate in the blog tour – I think that The Passing Tribute looks fabulous in my #OnTheShelfie and I’ll definitely be looking out for the other blog posts to see what my fellow bloggers thought of this immersive and memorable tale.
Writer On The Shelf
This is Simon’s second novel. In 2015 he self-published The Long Drawn Aisle, then immediately started work researching and writing The Passing Tribute.
A political historian at heart, Simon read modern history at UCL before gaining an MA distinction in Imperial and Commonwealth History at King’s College London.
It was during these studies that his profound and ongoing fascination with the pre and post-WW1 European settlement was stirred, and it has inspired both of his novels to date.
Simon was born and raised in London but has lived and worked for most of the past decade in France.
With youthful pretensions to screenwriting and poetry, prose has taken over and he has worked variously as a private tutor, English language teacher, assistant bar manager, gig economy dromedary, and Real Tennis professional.
As The Long Drawn Aisle took him over ten years to write (and rewrite, and rewrite), he has therefore had plenty of time to immerse himself in all of these glorious postings. And long – says the man in short trousers – may it continue!