Pantheon by Sam Bourne

Pantheon by Sam Bourne

The darkest secrets of World War II… finally revealed. Europe is ablaze. America is undecided about joining the fight against Nazism. And James Zennor, a brilliant, troubled, young Oxford don is horrified. He returns one morning from rowing to discover that his wife has disappeared with their young son, leaving only a note declaring her continuing love. A frantic search through wartime England leads James across the Atlantic and to one of America’s greatest universities, its elite clubs and secret societies – right to the heart of the American establishment. And in his hunt for his family, James unearths one of the darkest and deadliest secrets of a world at war…

Pantheon is based on the true story of 125 Oxford children and 25 mothers who left Liverpool for the safety of Yale University in mid July 1940. Like many books of its period Sam Bourne – writing here under the pseudonym of journalist Jonathan Freedland – takes his pointers from a number of real life events and allows his imagination to combine fact and fiction in a tale of eugenics.

I have to admit when I read the press blurb that accompanied the book I was very keen to read the Pantheon, I’ve always had a fascination for the period but for me there was something missing with this book, it just wasn’t what I expected and when I turned the final pages I was left disappointed. It took me a while to find my way in Pantheon, I found the first half sedentary and seemingly going nowhere. The pace does pick up a little in the final stages but for me it wasn’t enough to rescue the book from mediocrity. I expected so much more from a seasoned journalist and I was tempted to put the book to bed a number of times while reading but I persevered.

The narrative is an interesting mix. It is clearly well written and the amount of time spent on research is clear for all to see but to make it an interesting read you have to have colourful and believable characters and I just didn’t find any. I couldn’t relate to James Zennor – he’s far too dark and traumatised – or his wife and couldn’t quite work out their relationship and his fascination to hunt her down after finding out she had arranged to run away with their son. I had so much hope for Zennor when we first met him, rowing along the river in the early morning for exercise – I can certainly relate to that – I imagined an athlete of a certain standing but when what we have is a rather psychotic character who relies on the bottle to deal with his war time (Spanish) hallucinations.

I did find the subject of eugenics fascinating, it reminded me of Perfect People by Peter James I read and rated highly not so long ago. The possibility that people of a certain class standing could pick and choose their descendants is frightening and will shock some readers, another aspect Bourne has researched tirelessly.

I’m certain a number of people will take a great deal of pleasure from Pantheon, unfortunately I’m not one of them and although I appreciate a meticulously researched and well written book I struggled with this one. Not for me I’m afraid.

Published by HarperCollins, Pantheon is available in Hardback & Kindle formats.

ISBN-10: 0007413637

ISBN-13: 978-0007413638

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2 Responses to “Pantheon by Sam Bourne – Book Review”

  1. Susi Holliday (@SJIHolliday) says:

    Well done for writing such a balanced account of a book that you clearly didn’t like! We can’t all like everything we read and you haven’t put me off this as I’d never even have picked it off the shelf anyway, don’t know why, just doesn’t appeal.

  2. Nikki-ann says:

    Very much a balanced review. It just wouldn’t be right if we all liked the same things.

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