Although a fan of Boyd's writing, I was quite pleased to see his latest novel, Restless, was something of a departure from his usual storyline centring on a bumbling Englishman plauged with absurd misfortune, usually in some exotic setting. It's always a test of a good writer to see if they can pull off a story in a different genre to their staple area - and Boyd passes the test.
Restless is a spy thriller, with two strong and interesting central characters, fast paced, well plotted, and with a couple of good, original twists. The story is told in alternating first and third person chapters; the first person narrator being Ruth, a single mother in 1970s Britain; the third person narrative telling the story of Eva, a young woman recruited into the murky world of British spying/propaganda in Europe and America during WWII. The lives of the two overlap in modern times as Eva turns out to be Ruth's mother - now living an apparently ordinary life as an English widow - and has decided the time has come to settle some old scores.
Boyd's writing style is always a pleasure to read, and lends itself surprisingly well to this genre. His attention to detail and ability to make the mundane seem interesting, as well as bringing out the absurdities of life, are ideal for creating atmosphere and setting the scene, and it seemed somehow much more plausible than many spy stories.
The idea of combining the war era with peace times isn't entirely original, but it did work quite well here and brought home the story's central point of how spy work changed the mindset of a person forever.
I thoroughly enjoyed the book and found it very gripping - one of those it's difficult to put down. Maybe not a book that would stay with me forever, but certainly a good read whilst it lasts. I would place Boyd up there along with masters like Le Carre, and would look forward to reading anything else he writes in this genre.
on 2 May 2009
It is 1976 and Ruth Gilmartin is a single mother living in Oxford with five-year-old son Jochen and getting by teaching English to foreign students. Sally, her mother, now in her seventies, lives an hour away by car and they see each other regularly at weekends. It is on one such hot summer Saturday that Sally hands her daughter a large file of loose pages to read and, in so doing, introduces Ruth to Eva Delectorskaya, beautiful Eva, multi-lingual Russian émigrée living in Paris in 1939, soon to become a wartime British spy and Ruth's mother.
From here on Boyd skilfully, wonderfully interleaves the unfolding story of Eva Delectorskaya during those war years with the here and now of 1976, as Sally Gilmartin, once again the spy, inveigles her daughter into one last assignment. The use of two time-lapsed stories is seamless, working perfectly to develop the total picture; when reading a chapter of Eva's racy history I found myself itching to get back to Ruth's here and now, and when catching up on Ruth's life and her mother's calculating plan I was desperate to know what happened next with Eva.
Boyd delivers a gripping, grass-roots story of disinformation and subterfuge, more in the vein of Alec Lemas than James Bond, where brain is more important than brawn and only the sharpest minds survive. And Eva Delectorskaya is not only very beautiful but very, very sharp.
Enjoy this book.
on 8 December 2011
Sex. Espionage and Deathly Secrets.
An outstanding novel, page turning and thought provoking. Restless is William Boyd's ninth book and is the winner of Costa's Novel Award 2006. Boyd has established himself not only within the literature community but also on media levels as well with 13 of his screenplays being filmed and even writing and directing `The Trench'.
Restless is told in alternating first and third person chapters. The first person is a young woman called Ruth Gilmartin, a single mother with a first degree from Oxford whom is now teaching English to foreign students as their second language. The third person narrative is the voice of Eva Delectorskaya a 28 year old Russian who is recruited by British Secret Service after her brother's mysterious death. Eva's story of secrets, love, lust, betrayal and murder hits Ruth hard as she's reading her own mothers closely guarded autobiography. Nothing is as it seems. Ruth begins to realise that her mother, a top class spy in world war two, has one last score to settle, without knowing it Ruth is now part of this tangled web of deceit and has a vital part to play in her mother's last mission.
Extremely well written and tantalisingly gripping, culminating in the alternating first and third person narrative seamlessly linking into the current events from the first person narrative of Ruth. I found myself wanting to read Eva Delectorskaya's diary all at once. Boyd's twist's had me gasping; his effective manipulation of tension and suspension creates shockwaves throughout the reader. The twists, turns and new secrets that were evolving on every page it made it hard for the reader not to be on their toes and completely sucked into 1939; the reader could never become complacent as on the next page would be an earth shattering revelation. All of this was broken with the interweaving of Ruth's life which seems slow paced compared to what was just read , the change in pace I would believe to symbolise what it was like in the lead up to the war, going from one extreme to another. I was extremely surprised to see how Boyd wrote from a women's prospective, the characterisation of both women is both heartfelt and emotive. By Eva's last official mission in Mexico 1941 we, as the reader, have built up empathy with her character; the idea of not trusting anyone , changing your identity and living a life where everything must be analysed if not it could lead to her demise. This strong sense of understanding the character helps the reader understand her coldness and isolation in 1976. Boyd in an interview said `to become a true spy you are condemned to be eternally mistrustful and therefore eternally "Restless" ' this idea is carried heavily throughout the novel. Not only through Eva's story but also the unwinding of Ruth's story too, it makes you think about your own life and can any of us be content and 100 percent sure of its peacefulness.
on 31 August 2010
I really enjoyed the story and am a fan of Boyd's writing in general.
But the Kindle edition has very low production values. Missing words, the same names spelled different ways in different places, extra hyphens for no apparent reason. And not just the odd instance, but many of them. It's as little as though they have used some poor OCR and failed to proof read properly. I'm not massively picky about such things, but this was so bad it distracted from the book. I wouldn't mind if the Kindle editions were cheaper than the physical book, but at these prices proper quality is a must. Will be complaining direct to Amazon.
on 29 March 2007
As a fan of both Boyd (An Ice Cream War & Any Human Heart, especially) and WWII spy fiction (Alan Furst being the master) I looked forward to this. And it is indeed a page turner, the 1940s part of the narrative being particularly gripping.
It's the 1970s stuff with the daughter that lets it down. Too many pointless characters and dead ends (the Iranian protesters, the German hippies, etc.). I wasn't around in the 40s, so I can't speak for its authenticity there, but some of the 70s scenes are simply anachronistic - a history prof with a computer on his desk in 1976? No way. And I can only assume that Boyd has no children, because I have NEVER heard a pre-school aged kid speak the way that "Jochen" does - he sounds like a very well-educated 40-year old!
Worth reading, but it won't go down as one of his best.
This really is a terrific book - a spy thriller with an edge-of-your-seat plot and an exciting story that delves into the deeper reaches of British intelligence activities during WWII. Ruth Gilmartin is about to uncover long-held secrets concerning her mother's wartime activities as a member of a news distribution agency set up as a front for the activities of a small cell of British agents with the aim of bringing America into the war against Hitler. Ruth's mother, Eva Delectorskaya, was recruited by Lucas Romer, and later became his lover as well as his most accomplished operative in both Belgium, and later in Mexico, where betrayal awaits but is foiled by a most unorthodox weapon.
The novel alternates between the modern back-story of Ruth's discoveries, set in the late seventies, and the wartime adventures of the small cadre of agents. It weaves seamlessly, faultlessly, toward the moment of final confrontation. This was most enjoyable and enthralling read I've had this year.
on 15 August 2007
I enjoyed this novel, although it does not achieve the merit of classic Boyd fiction.
I enjoyed it because it opened my eyes to the lobbying that most likely went on prior to the Americans joining the Second World War effort.
The novel itself was pacey and the title of Restless is perhaps appropriate. The story was good and kept my interest; I finished it within the week.
In summary; good story, well plotted, and the novel of value in reading, but, it loses two stars for the following:
* The surprise is a little obvious early in the novel; better drafting would have concealed this until later in the novel, notwithstanding this, it does not detract much from the story.
* Some characters are not as well developed as I like; a failure when comparing this against `A Good Man in Africa'
* A number of characters do not really add any value to the story, they are simply there, and I am unsure what there purpose was; the lodger and girlfriend being the main two unnecessary additions.
The story concerns "Sally Gilmartin", who it rapidly transpires had a previous identity as the Russian Eva Delectorskya. Eva was a spy in the early days of the Second World War, and it is interesting to read about her training and her field of action, first in Paris and later in New York. But the other main character is Eva's daughter Sally, who knew nothing about her mother's previous existence until a chain of events unfolds, dragging her into a 30 year old mystery and its ultimate resolution in the late 1970s. .
I have read most of William Boyd's books, and also am an avid reader of spy novels by the likes of Alan Furst, John Le Carré, Gerald Seymour (and recently C J Samson of Winter in Madrid), and was intrigued to see what Boyd would make of the genre. The result was "good, but ordinary". The story is well-constructed, but can be a little plodding at times, and it is lacking in atmosphere, and characterisation. Because of this it seems somehow unbelievable, almost as though it is a parody of a spy novel (although I don't think this was Boyd's intention). I have never liked novels where the action takes place in two different eras, with the action swapping back and forth between the two with each chapter. This novel relies wholly on this device, and for me, I found it annoying. However, the story develops well through the two different eras, but alas, the denoument is just too unbelievable, and moves into Agatha Christie territory.
Having said all that, many people have evidently enjoyed this book (it is a Richard and Judy's book club choice) and no doubt will achieve a high number of sales to people who are on the whole are unlikely to be disappointed with it. I came to this book with high expectations, but like some of the other reviewers, found it enjoyable, but not quite good enough. We Boyd fans will have to wait until his next offering in order to get our customary fix.
on 12 March 2007
Somehow I'd been thinking William Boyd had got a little tired lately, wondering whether he'd lost his magic touch... But no - he most definitely hasn't. This book is an absolute masterpiece. The two-pronged storylines of an exciting and glamorous spy during the 1940s on the on hand, and the - as many people have observed - much more mundane life of her daughter, set in Oxford of the Seventies, are cunningly and fascinatingly interlinked. One could write a whole thesis about the echoing effects in those two lives... But the whole point is: This is an incredibly entertaining, and as blurb- writers use to say "unputdownable" novel. I would definitely recommend it.
on 1 January 2013
I have read and loved William Boyd's books since his very first ones, but have failed to keep up to date with his prodigious output. Picking up again this year with his excellent "Any Human Heart", I have been dipping in and out of his oeuvre, whilst reminding myself how cleverly he varies the type of books he can write, whilst involving you in the characters and plotlines, descriptions and places, seemingly effortlessly. This of course is the mark of a seriously talented writer. OK, not all the books are completely even and some appeal to a certain audience more than others. Being on a bit of down time over Christmas, I attacked a few thrillers (not my first choice of reading), whizzing through "the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" (thought it was better than OK but not fantastic) before downloading "Restless" having read about the BBC film being made. Having only caught the first episode, I read the book before watching the recorded second episode. I thought it was a really classy, well-written good, old-fashioned couldn't-put-it-down type thriller. The characters had depth and interest, the situations appeared to involve you without suspending your belief and I loved the fact that at the end you were still slightly uncertain as to the ultimate fate of Eva/Sally. Was she paranoid, did she merely enact the whole thing to involve her daughter, or were the Soviets really out to get her? (cleverly set in the 1970's, so not unfeasible.) I haven't enjoyed a book of this type so much for ages, and find it hard to understand why anybody thought it was slow - but horses for courses. I also find it hard to understand why Boyd is somehow not as up there in the same critically exalted league as say, Martin Amis & Ian McEwan. Perhaps the fact he writes beautifully well-structured, accessible books with interesting characters, reasonable plots and generally a beginning, middle and end is just too "well-crafted" for the literati. If you do like a well-crafted novel and a good read, then this definitely recommended. By the way, I had the Kindle edition and it was fine, so clearly the problems mentioned earlier have been rectified.