Monday, 9 January 2012

Testament - changing history

As last-but-one up in the post-an-excerpt list, I've been a bit dilatory about posting a piece from Testament. This is because I've found it so difficult to try and identify a passage which adequately reflects the book.

Finally, I've come to the conclusion that the best place to start must be at the beginning. So, I give you the opening paragraphs of Testament.

It was a small, almost insignificant fire, the smouldering consequences of wiring overdue for replacement a decade earlier, an irritating addition to the maintenance team's job-list rather than a major item of college news. But when the carpenters came to remove a small section of charred oak panelling they were confronted by an image that would change the history of Kineton and Dacre College.
There, on the newly-uncovered patch of wall behind the Tudor panelwork, a soot-blackened face stared ut, its mouth agape. And in that gaping mouth, a tiny figure writhed: an infant child, its arms outstretched.

The face belongs to a fourteenth century wall painting that has been hidden for centuries, a painting that raises all sorts of questions about the two very different men who founded and built the college. And the image does 'change the history of the college'. In the novel the real story of Kineton and Dacre College's foundation is finally uncovered and, as a consequence, its history going forward is transformed.

It was that notion - that history can change the future - that really intrigued me when I was writing the book. What started off as a story set solidly in the fourteenth century morphed, as I wrote, into a split time narrative because I wanted to look at the past from the point of view of the present and to show that, however much we think we've uncovered what happened, we can never really know the full truth because we weren't there.

That's what I love about historical novels - they let you go there.

8 comments:

Frances Garrood said...

This is a brilliant opening, Alis! Hooks the reader straight in.

Aliya Whiteley said...

Yes, I love this opening to a great novel. Have recommended it to a few friends, and it makes me smile every time I see it on their bookshelves. One of the great pleasures of reading is being able to recommend well-written, moving and thoughtful novels like this one to people who will get it too.

Tim Stretton said...

The opening hints at what the rest of the novel delivers: that this is one of the few timeslip stories where the two strands are properly integrated.

It's a wonderful novel and I hope the Latvians appreciate their translation of it...

Len Tyler said...

It's a while since I read Testament, and it's great to have a reminder of how good it is! I agree with what Tim says about the two strands.

Alis said...

Thanks guys! What would I do without you?!

Ann Weisgarber said...

Like your other fans, I've enjoyed rereading the paragraphs that started the novel. I love the image of the fire that no matter how small, still burns and alters what was once there.

Deborah Swift said...

I echo Len's thoughts. It was one of the first MNW novels I read, and I was seriously impressed.

Eliza Graham said...

They let you go there indeed, Alis. Great stuff.