This is going to be a pretty short review. The reason for that is because I was so hooked, that I didn’t stop to note the pages with quotable quotes. It literally took me a day and, if I hadn’t finished in that time, I was seriously considering cancelling my plans for the evening.
Firstly, the admin – This is a sequel to The Girl Who Fell From The Sky, which kept me up till 3am a couple of years ago and was one of only a handful of five-star reads that year. It charts the story of Marian Sutro, a secret agent in World War II, once the war is over and she has to readjust to ‘normal’ life….sort of.
It wasn’t perfect. There’s a framing device, in more or less the present day, which didn’t really work for me. In the same vein, the occasional intrusion of the narrator’s voice into the story was a little jarring at times, although I liked how it drew attention to the fictionality of it all; a partially unreliable narrator who is more or less open about his own unreliability.
His relationship with Marian was the only one which occasionally rang a little untrue, but I wonder whether that was on purpose – whether it was written through a filter of the awkwardness that dominates a teenage boy’s dealings with an adult woman, to whom he’s not related. The rest of the relationships I thought were well-drawn, realistically flawed interactions between damaged and troubled people – particularly Marian, who spends most of the novel trying (not) to come to terms with her time in Ravensbruck. The dynamic between Marian, Ned and Clement I thought was particularly well done.
And finally – wow, can Simon Mawer spin a plot. I don’t know how to pin down that elusive ability to keep people turning pages till 3am; if you could bottle it, you’d make a fortune, but nobody would ever again get anything done. I liked how this captured the anticlimax of peace, the dullness of life-after-the-war, without ever being dull itself. And then the Cold War comes along, and – well, you’ll just have to read it and see. But please do.