I'm absolutely delighted to be able to post a review, today, of Mark Patton's latest book 'Omphalos'. Today is the official launch day for it and it's already doing well on the Amazon charts. If you've not yet got a copy, I highly recommend it.
I was very lucky to read a copy of this at an earlier stage in publication and I love the book. Today, I've bought my pwn kindle copy as I will want to read this book again (and maybe more times) at some point in the future. Here's what I wrote after finishing it:
Omphalos by Mark Patton 5 stars
Omphalos is a powerful word, a powerful connotation, as are the stories focused on in this excellent collection.
I’ve never yet visited the Neolithic passage grave at La Hougue Bie, on the island of Jersey, but now that I’ve read Mark Patton’s ‘Omphalos’ I’m very keen to journey to the geographical centre of his tales. Set over many millennia, his fictional accounts of people associated with the mound atop the sacrificial site of the ancients are a fascinating read. Like the book within a book mentioned in ‘Touching Souls’, there are linking threads which bind the stories to each other and to the spiritual focal point of the ancients. The author leads the reader from one story to the next like an easy progress through the chambers of La Hougue Bie, followed by a reverse journey of revelation. To say too much of how this is cleverly achieved through the excellent use of letters, prose and poetry, I feel, would spoil the enjoyment of a potential reader. The skilful writing techniques used make it a thoroughly engrossing read.
Stone is central to the whole collection of tales. The tiny Neolithic stone sent to Hannelore, by her German soldier father who was stationed on Jersey during World War II, is contrasted with the immense megaliths which were used in the construction of the passage grave mentioned in ‘The Song of Strangers’, this story set in Neolithic times. Having read Undreamed Shores by Mark Patton, the story of Egrasté and Txeru once again plunged me into the depths of pre-history where their tale was brought alive through the author’s adroit writing style.
In the accounts of Guillaume and Sir Raoul, and Nicholas and Master Richard Mabon, we learn of chapel constructions on the top of the mound at La Hougue Bie during the 12th and early 16th centuries- the sacred stones of these consecrated by current religious authorities. Master Richard may not have brought back an omphalos of stone to grace the chapel interior, but the evidence of his pilgrimage to Jerusalem is equally revered. The reader learns of the late eighteenth century tower extension to the chapels via the tale of Mademoiselle de Beaubigny, a young woman of courage and great intellect, and her enterprising young man, Mr. Carey. We read of a different use for the buildings in this story: another sort of honour, trust and faith employed by the users at a time of great political unrest in parts of Europe.
There are hidden depths to Mark Patton’s characters – in those who lived for a time near the mound at La Hougue Bie. Loyalties, frailties and even sins are uncovered. Love is a sinuous thread throughout the stories. There’s love between two people; love of gods or God; love in the form of fealty or loyalty to a master. Some of the love is genuine and lasting, and some is fleeting - secrets uncovered at deathbeds. The physical legacies from the characters in each story, in stone or in other construction material, bear significant impact on characters coming later. Trust is an intermingling theme, handled delicately by the author since the perception of people is not always simple or clear cut: not all is as it seems. Egrasté tenders her feelings beautifully in ‘The Song of Strangers’- “Trust is a choice, not a gift, something you do, not something you have.”
As the navel cord between mother and baby nourishes and binds - the Omphalos stones of La Hougue Bie draw in the reader to its central chamber. Cocooned within, the reader is fed the lives and loves of characters of the past through the excellent use of prose, poetry and flowing imagery. The following appeals to me but there are many other enticing examples to choose from. In ‘Touching Souls’ Oberleutnant Friedrich Werner writes to his wife Greta. “I climbed the observation tower with him and looked up with my binoculars as squadron after squadron of planes flew over, all in V-formations, like skeins of geese.” In ‘The Song of Strangers’ Egrasté arrives at Txeru’s village for the first time - “They walked like ants, in single file, Egrasté following Txeru, Todor at her heels. The sunlight pierced the tree canopy in narrow shafts, like herons’ bills thrust down into the depths of a river. Above them, flitting between branches and hidden by translucent leaves, the chiff-chaff called out its name.”
I have no qualms in recommending ‘Omphalos’ to the lover of historical fiction and to those who enjoy a well-knitted together tale.