What does it mean to be “on the wrong side of history,” and how does one respond to the realisation that this is the case? My recently published third novel, Omphalos, is, in part, an exploration of these questions. The novel comprises six inter-woven stories, each set in a different time period, from the present day back to 4000 BC, and three of these stories feature protagonists who find themselves, in different ways, on the wrong side of history.
In 1945, arguably all Germans and Austrians, apart from those few brave souls who had actively opposed Hitler and the Nazis, found themselves on the wrong side of history. The protagonist of “The Spirit of the Times,” Oberleutnant Friedrich Werner, is in just this position. He is a fictional character, and his story is told through the letters he exchanges with his wife and family, in the last year of the Second World War, and afterwards as a prisoner-of-war. In the process of researching the story, I read a great many real letters and diaries of the period. Friedrich is an average middle class German, not a fanatical Nazi by any means, but a party member, nonetheless, and an architect who, at the beginning of the story, aspires to work with Albert Speer. As events unfold, Friedrich’s view of the world changes, and he is forced to confront the reality of the system he has supported, opening up tensions between himself, his mother and his brother.
Suzanne de Beaubigny, the fictional protagonist of “The Infinite Labyrinth,” is a Royalist refugee from Revolutionary France. When her diary begins, in the summer of 1799, her father has already given his life in the service of his king, and she herself is drawn into a clandestine world of espionage and intrigue. The cause for which she and her companions have been fighting, however, the coronation of King Louis XVIII, is all but lost, and, when Napoleon Bonaparte comes to power in France, the emigré community to which Suzanne belongs is torn apart. She herself makes some surprising choices: she has found love, but she and her beau are sailing off into a very uncertain future.
Richard Mabon, the protagonist of “Jerusalem,” is a historical character, a Catholic priest from Jersey who is known to have made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem in the first quarter of the 16th Century. No record of his pilgrimage survives, so the story itself is wholly fictional. The story follows Mabon and his secretary, Nicholas Ahier, on their journey from Venice to Jerusalem in 1517. Mabon himself is a Catholic of the old school, a fervent believer in indulgences, the intercession of saints and the healing power of relics, notions that are already being questioned by many. One of his travelling companions is a knight from the German city of Wittenberg, where, later that year, Martin Luther will publish his Ninety-Five Theses, launching the Protestant Reformation that will challenge everything that Richard Mabon believes in.
Together, the six stories that make up Omphalos will take the reader on a journey, a pilgrimage of sorts, through six thousand years of our shared history.
“German Occupation 4” German officers in the Channel Islands, where Friedrich serves. Photo: Imperial War Museum, non-commercial license.
“Sea-coast promenade fashion, 1809” Fashion print of 1809, “Sea-coast promenade fashion” (image is in the Public Domain). I came upon this after I had written the story, but it is exactly as I imagined Suzanne.
“Monk, Priest, Acolyte, Deacon” A monk, a priest, a deacon and an acolyte: 16th Century woodcut by Tobias Stimmer (image is in the Public Domain). Richard Mabon could be the central figure carrying a chalice.
Mark Patton was born and grew up on the island of Jersey. He studied Archaeology & Anthropology at Cambridge and completed his PhD at University College London. He has taught at the Universities of Wales, Greenwich and Westminster, and currently teaches with The Open University. He is the author of two previous historical novels, Undreamed Shores (Crooked Cat, 2012) and An Accidental King (Crooked Cat 2013).
About the Book
Publication Date: December 5, 2014
Crooked Cat Publications
Formats: eBook, Paperback
Genre: Historical Fiction
SIX EPOCHS, TEN LIVES INTERSECTING AT A SINGLE PLACE. 2013: Al Cohen, an American in search of his European heritage.
1944-1946: Friedrich Werner, an officer of the Wehrmacht and later a prisoner of war. His wife Greta, clinging to what remains of her life in war-torn Berlin.
1799: Suzanne de Beaubigny, a royalist refugee from revolutionary France.
1517: Richard Mabon, a Catholic priest on pilgrimage to Jerusalem with his secretary, Nicholas Ahier.
1160: Raoul de Paisnel, a knight with a dark secret walking through Spain with his steward, Guillaume Bisson.
4000 BC: Egrasté, a sorceress, and Txeru, a man on an epic voyage.
Transgressions, reconciliations and people caught on the wrong side of history.
Omphalos. A journey through six thousand years of human history.
Praise for Omphalos
“Omphalos is a powerful word, a powerful connotation, as are the stories focused on in this excellent collection. 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. I have no qualms in recommending ‘Omphalos’ to the lover of historical fiction and to those who enjoy a well-crafted tale.” – Nancy Jardine