top of page

Secrets and Deceit in the Shadow of the Cathedral - an Editorial Review of "Return to Bayeux"

Updated: Nov 11, 2022

Book Blurb: Coming soon!

Book Buy Link: Coming soon!

Author Bio: Coming soon!

Editorial Review:

He was barely recognizable even to these people whom he had known all his life. The change in Henri was dramatic and more than a little frightening. In his youth, he had been a friendly, charismatic boy. The hollow-eyed, weary looking soldier who walked among his fellow parishioners appeared to be a disturbing shadow of his former self.

Return to Bayeux is definitely more than just another WWI novel. This “return” involves more hearts than just the young soldier who returns from the front. From the first, we are introduced to Henri embedded in the dank trenches of the Western Front in France, along with his brother, and they've both resolved to outlive the war and return home to their family farm intact. However, the travails and endless days take their toll, and Henri's brother volunteers for a dangerous assignment, one which leaves him severely injured. When Henri's parents learn of his brother's injuries, they travel for miles to the field hospital to see about their two boys... but with the war approaching the end, more devastation occurs... which leaves Henri traveling back to his home and family farm. Alone.

He had a need to tell the tale of the war years, and it came tumbling out, unfiltered, and painfully truthful. Marguerite listened, not wanting to impede the flow of words that seemed to need to be let out. The story was more than she wanted to hear, but she knew he had to tell the tale. It was like a purulent wound that needed to be lanced; only then could the healing commence.

When he returns, he is reacquainted with his aunt Marguerite, who has served many years at the Bayeux Cathedral under the supervision of Father Bernard, but Marguerite has her own secrets about her own return to Bayeux many years previous.

It was often said that there are no atheists in foxholes, but Henri wasn't convinced. He was experiencing his own crisis of faith. Raised in religion, he felt anger, guilt, and doubt as he questioned the benevolence of a God who could allow such devastation. He had been brought up to believe that faith would sustain you through the darkest times. But his faith was clearly wavering.

The story veers into the long saga of Sister Marguerite and her decision to leave her illegitimate son in the capable hands of her sister, Adele, and to become a nun. While she struggles with her decision, and even confides in the local parish priest, Father Bernard, to whom she forms a passionate attraction. After all, Father Bernard is hiding his own secrets... such as that of his past as a Romi gypsy “adopted” by a priest in Paris who treated him like a son. He took on the priest's name and later became a priest himself, but at great sacrifice of giving up any chance for a wife and family. Yet, his own attraction to Marguerite is unmistakable, so when she returns to Bayeux after years have passed, both must deal with their feelings as well as her secrets.

It was my decision that Henri would grow up in your family, as your son. You have been an amazing father to him, and for that I am thankful. Obviously, I have sacrificed a lot to give him the life I imagined for him. And... I swear on a stack of Bibles, I am going to do everything in my power to make sure that his life is not disrupted.”

Marguerite immerses herself into the parish life and her work, even facing the “ghosts” of her past life, and finds some semblance of peace, until a rather violent episode reveals secrets not only about herself but about another nun, Louise, and the fierce protectiveness of Father Bernard. During her years serving as a nun, she is able to watch her son grow to manhood, caring for him from a distance as his “aunt”, even tending to him during the terrible outbreak of influenza which took many lives, but always taking care to avoid giving any fuel to the gossip ready to spark about her possible parentage. Later, Henri falls in love with a beautiful girl named Sophie, which becomes an impetuous love affair between the rich banker's daughter and a poor farm boy. Inevitably, this relationship creates worries for Marguerite who sees similarities to her own youthful mistakes and creates a very “East of Eden”-like rivalry between Henri and his “brother”, Louis. Yet, war overwhelms them all, and the boys leave for the front.

History repeats itself, and Henri never knows that Sophie gives birth to a baby... and more new secrets lay upon the old secrets, with Father Bernard knowing the truth of it all. Fighting together, Louis struggles with the secret of Sophie and the baby, but he determines never to tell his brother the truth, thinking he is protecting him. Yet, secrets have a way of rising to the surface, and once the war ends, Henri returns to Bayeux, and revelations are made, as well as decisions that will change Marguerite, Henri, and Sophie's lives.

This is an epic story of the power of love, of clinging to hope in the midst of war, and how people's lives can come full circle when powered by truth and love. The characters are full and vivid, and the intensity of the narrative, of the realities of war, and the cruelties and secrets wrought between people. Not only that, but this shows a real story of life happening while the war is going on, the battles raging on the home front, and of dreams and innocence shattered. While quite a lengthy read, it is well worth the effort, save for a few times that the author uses some of the same words and phrases again and again, which once the reader gets past, the story blossoms. (page 388-407 – used the phrase “seemed to” six times). Overall, this is a very enjoyable read, with a different view of life during WWI in France.


“Return to Bayeux” by Cilinda Stroud receives 4.5 stars from The Historical Fiction Company


bottom of page