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50 of 53 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars 'Figures skulk in the shadows of her imagination. Are they watching her, even now?'
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...
Published on 6 May 2012 by L. H. Healy

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18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars All that research.....
This book could have been so much better if the back story didn't occupy so much of the first part of the book. After the first chapter when our heroine is parachuted into France, one could skip the next `40 per cent' and hardly miss anything at all. There's much about recruitment, training and the organisation and Simon Mawer commits the cardinal sin of so many writers...
Published 10 months ago by Amazon Customer


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50 of 53 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars 'Figures skulk in the shadows of her imagination. Are they watching her, even now?', 6 May 2012
By 
L. H. Healy "Books are life, beauty and truth." (Cambridgeshire, UK) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (TOP 100 REVIEWER)    (REAL NAME)   
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).
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18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars All that research....., 23 Sep 2013
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This review is from: The Girl Who Fell From The Sky (Kindle Edition)
This book could have been so much better if the back story didn't occupy so much of the first part of the book. After the first chapter when our heroine is parachuted into France, one could skip the next `40 per cent' and hardly miss anything at all. There's much about recruitment, training and the organisation and Simon Mawer commits the cardinal sin of so many writers in needing to tell us all about his exciting background research - in this case, quantum mechanics. He is not alone, I once read a mystery novel set in Africa and at the end could I could have achieved a first degree in geology and mining engineering. Why do so many writers love to tell us about their hours in the public library? So, dear reader, we are carried along into the world of the atom, its electrons and neutrons. And soon we learn that the particle (which can also be a wave function (that is, it can be in two states at the same time) is a metaphor for our heroine's mind also being in two states. But, hey! Let's not stop there. We get Schrodinger's cat (which is also in two states - either dead or alive or possibly both) and the notion of a collapsing wave function. I hope you're following all this. I thought to myself as I ploughed along that at any moment we would get the double slit experiment as well as mentions of Heisenberg and Niels Bohr's work on the atom bomb. And sure enough there they were - several more pages down the line. We are now into Michael Frayn's play `Copenhagen'. So, after a lot more about the theory of an atomic bomb and how uncritical masses can become critical, the story comes back on track.
Not soon enough depending on how much you enjoyed your sojourn into nuclear fission. But thankfully we are now in Paris under German occupation and the story picks up its skirts and buzzes along with a great feel for what occupied Paris must have felt like.

Simon Mawer is not in the least bit coy about the intimate anatomical details of our heroine hiding forbidden items in places where no one might look but when it comes to sex, a discreet Barbara Cartland veil is drawn. Sex is of the `went to bed and afterwards' variety. No passion, no confusion of being a virgin and then not being a virgin, no exploration of our heroine's emotional state, no fondling, hugging, kissing. In fact it's all pussy-footing about and the story moves on as though these events were no more than nasal sniffles.

The book is well written but the research shows through and then wears thin as the metaphors pile up. The book is good on the excitement of the occupation and the tensions of sending coded messages but our heroine remains less well drawn, cluttered as she is by teenage fantasies about an older man. Simon Mawer could have put even more excitement into the Paris escapades with the Germans and had he been braver with his writing talents a more rounded and emotionally balanced protagonist might then have emerged. But he doesn't because he wants to tell us about those long hours in the library.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Absorbing, 27 Jan 2013
By 
Julia Flyte - See all my reviews
(TOP 50 REVIEWER)   
Note: In the US, this book is called "Trapeze".

Marian Sutro is bilingual: the daughter of an English father and French mother. She is recruited to be an undercover agent in France during WW2. When the book opens she is in a plane about to descend by parachute into the south of France. The book then goes back in time to explain how she was recruited, how she was trained and how she learned about her dual missions in France. Once she arrives in France she finds that it has changed significantly from the country that she once knew. But she has also changed and she approaches her tasks with a cool head and a professional demeanour.

The synopsis for this book makes it sound like a fast paced thriller, but it's more William Boyd than James Bond. The first half in particular moves quite slowly. Interestingly, the first half is written in the past tense and she is referred to as Marian. Once she arrives in France, the book moves to the present tense and she is referred to as Alice (the name by which she is known to her fellow agents). The second half has quite a different feel: it's tenser and you feel closer to Marian, who is quite distant in the early parts of the book. Towards the end, the pace and tension ratchet up and become almost unbearable. Without giving the ending away, I will say that it is quite unforgettable. I like the way that Mawer foreshadows things (for example the ending) without making it apparent what's going to happen.

I am a sucker for books about how agents are trained. If you share this obsession of mine, you'll like Restless: TV tie-in and the movie The Assignment [DVD] (1997).
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47 of 52 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Good WWII thriller, but there are others depths here, 18 April 2012
By 
Keris Nine - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
A short introduction to The Girl Who Fell From The Sky acknowledges the largely unsung effort of female agents sent into the field during the Second World War, and it's certainly the starting point for Simon Mawer's novel to show just how difficult and challenging the task was for young women unused to such direct military activity, not to mention how much more vulnerable they would be if captured. Any idea that the novel is just a kind of testimonial to their efforts is however soon forgotten or at least put to one side as the tense story of nineteen year old Marian Sutro unfolds, thrown into basic training and then parachuted into the heart of German-occupied France with a primary and a secondary mission of vital importance that are to challenge her profoundly and raise more serious questions.

Leaving aside the historical inspiration, Mawer's novel operates primarily as a thrilling account of wartime espionage, and at the same time - and rather uniquely in this respect - one that is seen through the eyes of inexperienced young Englishwoman (of French background) who is fully aware of the dangers she faces and trained to deal with them, but also has all the conflicting emotional needs and desires of a woman of the period that cannot be denied either. This is neatly tied into her mission to contact and, if possible, encourage a French scientist in Paris to come to England, who just happens to be a young man she used to know from her time living in Geneva. The object of a childhood crush that she has held onto over the years since the outbreak of the war, how will Clément look upon this new grown-up Marian, a woman seemingly as different as the many aliases she now switches between, but one who still has the heart of that young girl from all those years ago.

In some ways, the personal element of the story raises the old questions of the conflict between love and duty, but through his characters and the changes they are forced to undergo during a time of war, Mawer considers these ideas, particularly how the roles of men and women are changed, in a rather different context. What makes the issue more than just the usual questions of responsibilities and the morality of actions during wartime is the nature and scale of the scientific experiment that Clément is being asked to be involved in. The author raises the issue in a very original manner, equating the seismic advances in scientific knowledge with a similar leap that needs to be made on the human level, subtly defining characters in terms of atomic and sub-atomic particles and their relationships and actions as a chain reaction within that.

Mawer doesn't necessarily solve the moral issues raised within the book, necessarily deferring any personal judgement or imposing any sense of a modern hindsight perspective, retaining instead a sense of patriotic duty that is in keeping with the times. Set during this period however, at a time when it the ability to kill thousands from a distance (through something more than just a girl falling from the sky) would soon make those issues far more complex, Marian's actions and the decisions she takes at least highlight the necessity of people to courageously deal with the reality of those questions directly. On the surface, The Girl Who Fell From The Sky appears to be little more than a tense WWII war/espionage thriller - and a very good one on that basis alone - but it's so well written with realistic characters that you can relate to, that there is a great deal more depth and relevance to be found in it.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Review, 14 Jun 2013
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This review is from: The Girl Who Fell From The Sky (Kindle Edition)
Parts seemed dated and amateur. Her feelings were not plausible and seemed a man`s view of a woman`s feelings. Plot gripping though.
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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An everyday heroine, 23 April 2012
Please note this novel is also known as - Trapeze

Marian Sutro is a young woman recruited by the British to go to occupied France and work with the resistance there and fulfill a particular mission - to encourage her first love, a nuclear scientist, to escape to England and help in the nuclear race.

The story starts with her recruitment and training and immediately involves you with the hopes, fears of a normal woman being trained in espionage and dropped into a Nazi-occupied France that is now barely recognisable. There is a great sense of threat and tension in the book and the reader really gets a sense of the period and the danger these everyday heroes faced.

Marian Sutro is a flawed, imperfect spy with baggage from her youth and unsure of her feelings - there is her old love and an exasperating new one too. Set against a backdrop of the nuclear race to build the bomb, betrayal, treachery and the constant fear of capture.

This is a gripping adventure story, a fictional account but based on real events, that kept me on tenter-hooks till the very last page.

I read this on my Kindle. E-book received from NetGalley.
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19 of 22 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A well-written wartime thriller, 7 Aug 2012
By 
R. Brewer (London) - See all my reviews
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I bought this book having read a very positive newspaper review and while I quite enjoyed it, it didn't really live up to my expectations. On the upside, it is well-written overall and once the narrative takes the SOE heroine to France, the story flows at a good pace and most if not all of the background details and localities feel credible.

However, I do think the book has its weaknesses - which is why I've only given 3 stars. The book is in two parts - the first set in England covering the heroine's background, recruitment by SOE and training, the second of course on active service in France. I found the first part very uneven in tone and the chapters on the agent training felt cursory and unconvincing. While the second part is more coherent and engaging, the characters apart from Marian herself are sketchy, and the very ending felt to me too abrupt and out of keeping with the rest of the book.

In terms of comparing the book with others in the genre, I don't think that overall it's nearly as good as the Alan Furst espionage novels, which are equally well written but more atmospheric and richer in detail and character. The nearest comparisons in my view are the first two in David Downing's Berlin "Station" series (I say the first two because I think he raised his game from "Stettin Station" onwards) - perfectly respectable reads but nothing really memorable.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Spyfall, 13 Aug 2013
I feel slightly mean already for only giving this book 3 stars, but I did have very high hopes for it having loved the author's "The Glass Room." While "The Glass Room" is completely original and unique, I felt that there were echoes of Charlotte Grey and some of William Boyd's novels in this work - certainly not a bad thing, but the story didn't blow me away and make me want to read it again - and visit the location - as "The Glass Room" did.

I enjoyed the first part of the story more, covering Marian's training for the SOE in the UK. This felt credible and was obviously well-researched and left me wondering in what situations Marian might need the various skills that she learns. Her character is appealling and not so dreadfully humourless as her 70s counterpart in "Sweet Tooth" which I have also read recently. The continuation of the story in France is in present tense, which I have to admit to finding irritating, although of course it does give a sense of immediacy. The tense atmosphere, the brittle feeling of never being safe, always having to be on one's guard, not being able to trust anyone - and a sense of the disintegration of the true personality via so many aliases - were well-portrayed.

I can't put my finger on it exactly, but I felt this novel lacked soul. The latter parts felt as if they might have been written to a deadline, or even as if the author got bored with his own creation. Characters and incidents were left hanging but my curiosity never felt fired-up enough to wonder what had happened next. I wanted to finish the book mainly to get it finished, rather than to find out what happened, or to enjoy the journey. The ending itself was straight from "The Great Escape" which I am afraid has passed into the world of cliche, even if that was how it must often have happened in those days.

So, 3.5 stars for a readable enough book - and I am still hoping that Simon Mawer will give us another masterpiece like "The Glass Room".
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars One dimensional characters, 22 July 2013
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This review is from: The Girl Who Fell From The Sky (Kindle Edition)
Should have been tense and riveting and whilst it was a good story, it did not grip me. Thought the characters were not convincing...shame, I liked Glass House
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars left slightly disappointed, 21 July 2013
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My book club all agreed that too many areas fell short of what we felt, were the intentions of the author. It was almost as if the author tried to pack too much into too short a book. The plot was a great one, full of expectation, and yet as a reader you don't feel able to say you felt fulfilled. A bit like going to a Michelin starred restaurant and being served Nandos.
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