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I can honestly say that WWI fiction is not something that I would usually read. However it was selected as the book of the month for my reading group so I felt obliged to try it, after all the whole point of me joining was to stretch my reading experiences.
A Whispered Name begins in the peaceful setting of Larkwood Monastery. Father Anselm is approached by a young woman who requests to speak with Father Moore. Unfortunately this monk had died but since Father Anselm had a close association with him he offered his assistance. What he then found out shocked him, Father Moore had been involved in a Field General Court Marshall that had resulted in the sentence of death being passed on a young soldier. The woman had come seeking information but left unsatisfied. The Prior then felt obliged to seek out more information and set Father Anselm the task of trying to piece together what had actually happened during the build up to Passchendaele, why were the FGCM records incomplete, who was Owen Doyle and why had Moore kept the mans id tags, what had actually happened to Joseph Flannagan, was this a straightforward case of desertion and what association did the young lady, Kate Seymour have to the whole episode?
The story follows the cross-referencing and piecing together of evidence from the Public Records Office, interviews with people who may have information and ultimately a trip to France to try to gain some understanding of what had really transpired and why.
This is a truly haunting tale that is written in a flowing style that draws the reader in and immediately has you concerned about the welfare of the characters and you find yourself with a deep yearning to understand what has happened.
The book is written in an alternating fashion. Each chapter will either follow Herbert's story as it was actually happening and the next chapter is following Anselms quest to understand the information he is finding. This makes for an interesting read and shows how hard it is to interpret what really happened during war-time because of the scant information. Incidents are documented but they don't get to the heart of what people were thinking or the motives behind someone's actions. They can also be deliberately obtuse to prevent the revelation of material that certain people would prefer hidden.
The story centres around the relationship between Joseph Flannagan and Owen Doyle, how had they met as they were not in the same unit? They were reported by military police as being seen together but although Joseph Flannagan returned to the front he denied ever being there. Owen Doyle was reported killed a few weeks later with no mention of Flannagan. What has actually transpired is a story of moral courage and heroism that could not have been predicted and an unlucky incident of a trial at the wrong time. Herbert Moore was unfortunate in being dragged into the messy proceedings and the effect on him would last a life-time. The families of the soldiers concerned have also been affected but will the stigma of dishonour prevent the revelation of the truth?
There were some points in the story, where Anselm is untangling the threads of information, when it feels a little slow. However this is probably simply due to the fact that procedures are being explained and this is all useful background knowledge to help set the scene. This is not an action-packed battle novel, it is an investigation into human nature and into the effects that the travesty of war has on a persons senses. It is truly moving whilst still providing a gripping story with unpredictable twists and turns in the narrative that keeps the reader engaged from the first page.
The author, William Brodrick, was an Augustinian Friar before he left the order and became a barrister. He has obviously used his knowledge of both practices to provide the believable character of Anselm and the background setting of monastic life.
Although I was dubious about reading this book I am pleased I did. It brought the realities of war to life from a perspective of mental suffering rather than physical damage which I found particularly interesting. At over 300 pages of small print it was not a quick read as every word carried weight that needed appreciating and I did have to keep alert to follow all the intricate details. It is a book I may well read again as I feel there is more to gain from a second reading. If this is your sort of genre then I can't recommend it highly enough and even if it is not your usually sort of book I would still recommend that you try it, you may be surprised.