I’m also partial to a little World War I literature. As anyone with an interest in this genre will have already spotted, the title of this book is a direct reference to Wilfred Owen’s Strange Meeting – an unsettling poem in which Owen talks with a soldier he has killed.
Justin Go is also clearly influenced by these writers as The Steady Running of the Hour draws deeply from giants of the genre such as Sebastian Faulks’ Birdsong in particular, but there are also echoes of Pat Barker’s Regeneration and Vera Brittain’s Testament of Youth.
The Steady Running of the Hour’s American protagonist, Tristan Campbell, learns he may be the sole heir of a Will written in Britain in the 1920s. It turns out Tristan’s family history may not be what he thought as he travels to Europe to unravel the mystery before his time runs out and the estate is donated to charity. During his journey of exploration, we learn about a forbidden affair, the lovers’ secret and the horrors of the trenches.
En route, Tristan makes two significant acquaintances who reappear throughout the book. The first, Pritchard, is the lawyer dealing with the case and the other, Mereille, a mysterious French girl he meets in a Parisian bar. Both are mildly irritating characters that pull Tristan in opposite directions. Pritchard is sure Tristan is following the wrong leads and Mereille thinks the whole thing is a waste of time. Their continual attempts to put him off track don’t ring true and left me feeling bewildered. I suppose Pritchard represents Tristan’s head (as opposed to his heart) and his relationship with Mereille heavily mirrors that of the doomed war-time lovers Tristan is trying to track down.
The Steady Running of the Hour is beautifully written in places and left me so choked up after chapters in the trenches that I had to simply sit and absorb the words before I could move on. The modern-day element is fast-paced and intriguing, and provides some relief from the gruesome war-time narrative. The latter part of the novel is full of surprising twists and turns, although I was left feeling somewhat dissatisfied at the end. As I said before, I like a good plot reveal but this book left me wanting.
I picked this book up because of the ‘treasure hunt’ theme and I was happy to see it handling the topic through the lens of devastating conflict and loss, a concept which reverberates throughout the book.
Posted by RJB
Catalogue link: The Steady Running of the Hour