drove me crazy. From the title and premise, what you would expect is a book that interweaves fictionalized accounts of the two title characters against the backdrop of post-D-Day Normandy and speculates on a plan to, without Hitler’s knowledge or consent, attempt to negotiate an armistice to save Germany from total defeat when things looked bleakest on the Third Reich’s Western Front.
You’d also expect character portraits of the two that created some sense of their personalities. Humanizing them, if you will. How this is accomplished is to plod day-by-day through the story, meaning Rommel’s story takes place in the first half of the book; Patton’s the second. The trouble with this is that Rommel gets gravely injured, but the story (and premise for the book) have to play out. This means for the second half of the book, Feldmarschall Hans von Kluge has to take over as the main German character. It undercuts the whole idea of Rommel being considered a main character – and by extension also undercuts any contrasts/parallels you were drawing to Patton.
The dialogue also sinks it for me. Once again, people speak in facts. The British cannot say anything without a “jolly good” or “my dear chap” or “chop, chop” thrown in. I’m aware this might be legitimate idiomatic speech; it just feels strained and forced.
I will say this though – Patton’s Gap was written to assign blame to Montgomery and to portray Patton in an heroic light for the incident of the Falaise Gap; Rohmer has not forgotten this, and here that is taken to the extreme. Rohmer’s prejudices are transparent; Montgomery is portrayed as petty and petulant – and unable to get over the fact he wasn’t getting credit for the Allied offensive. Rohmer can’t resist having him whine about it at every opportunity and to describe him that way: As Monty is speaking, his assistant listens like so: “Corby sat listening intently, fascinated as always by Montgomery’s high-pitched, nasally voice with it’s peculiar lisp.” In the same paragraph he is described as “the scrawny general”. A bit later – in case you didn’t get the message – Monty goes on a rant about how he’s being slighted: “And who’s getting all the kudos for my planning? Bradley and Eisenhower and now Patton. The great and glorious Georgie, racing across France but only because I made it possible. And what do I get? Nothing but criticism. So here is my chance Freddie, my chance to demonstrate to the world that I brought this off, not the bloody Americans.” All we need is him chortling evilly to complete the scene.
By contrast, Patton can do no wrong. During a conversation when Churchill and Roosevelt are ostensibly talking about a possible armistice offer from Hitler – when the fate of the war is at stake – Roosevelt can’t help but turn into a gushing fanboy. He wants Patton to negotiate with Kluge instead of Montgomery – seemingly because he looks so cool: “When Patton presents himself in front of Kluge for the first time, that poor Prussian bastard will be overwhelmed by what he sees. Patton will have on his best shiny steel helmet, his battle-dress jacket will be flowing with ribbons, he’ll have on his cavalry jodhpurs, riding boots and spurs, and his riding crop will be tucked under his arm. And on each hip will be a beautiful ivory-handled revolver. And Patton’s tall Winston, he’s tall. Kluge won’t be faced by some little sparrow general in a beret and sweater, no sir. If he was here now, I’d give his knee a manly pat.” Okay, I added that last line. But they are discussing something of vital importance that could end the war and save countless lives and Roosevelt feels it’s appropriate to describe how Patton looks and take a shot at Montgomery?