Top positive review
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'Figures skulk in the shadows of her imagination. Are they watching her, even now?'
on 6 May 2012
Marian Sutro is recruited by the British in 1941 to work in France during World War Two. Marian previously lived in Geneva, but is now in England working in the WAAF, and as a native French speaker, she is selected to be trained and sent to work undercover in the South-West of France. In addition to the duties she is trained to undertake for the Special Operations Executive, she is given an additional secret assignment. She has happy memories of France from the past, of holidays and friends including Clement Pelletier, a research physicist. Before leaving for France she visits her brother Ned, also a physicist. We see her as she undergoes the numerous varied and rigorous training exercises, during which time she meets others who may play a part in her future, including Benoit. She learns 'how to blend in and how to fade away, how to see without ever being seen.' Then, she is dropped into occupied France by parachute, where her identity becomes Anne-Marie Laroche. When Marian has cause to head for Paris, she finds it is a different place from the one she remembers; it is changed, 'tarnished... this strange city that is a simulacrum of the Paris that she knew' and it is 'riddled with spies.' I will not discuss much more of the plot, as this would spoil it for future readers.
I loved this novel. It is an extremely engaging literary historical thriller. It is, at its heart, the story of a young woman placed in a very dangerous situation, all the while trying to understand her confused, complicated emotions towards two men, and comprehend the nuggets of scientific knowledge she has regarding nothing less than a possible future threat to man. Although Marion is a fictional character, women like her did undertake such missions as is noted at the start of the novel, so the story is very much grounded in fact. I found it an exciting book right down to the very last page and I didn't want it to end - it is a thrilling, fast-paced denouement, which I read with a quickened heartbeat! The author really sets a scene well, he conveys the mood and atmosphere of the times, and I could frequently feel the tension whilst reading. He has created compelling characters and a memorable adventure story which pulled me in; I cared deeply about what would happen to Marion, 'the daring young girl on the flying trapeze', after what she had been through, she has such guts and courage, and yet is so vulnerable. The prose is beautiful, and I was very moved by this story. This is definitely one of my books of the year so far. (reviewed via Netgalley).