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 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.
Ruth is a single mother who teaches English as a second language in Oxford, England. One day her mother hands her the first installment in her autobiography, and Ruth discovers that everything she thought she knew about her mother's background is a lie, and that her mother was actually a secret agent by the name of Eva, who worked for the British immediately prior to and during WW2.
From here, the book alternates between Ruth's life in the present day and her mother's story during the war. Like Ruth, I found myself caught up in the spy saga and hungry to see how it developed. William Boyd has done a great job of creating a plausible and intriguing storyline for Eva - more John le Carre than James Bond. While he captures the isolation of Eva's world and the mundane elements of her job, the story also builds with genuine tension and pace. Ruth's life, on the other hand, is more prosaic, but as she gets caught up in her mother's story, she loses her jaded view of the world and starts to see potential intrigue in the people and events around her.
This is an easy book to read and I enjoyed it very much. The details about Eva's training and life as a spy felt real and fascinating to me. The twists and turns in her story kept me hooked without feeling contrived or false. As I read the book I could feel it building towards some kind of climax but I had absolutely no idea where it would go. The mother's and daughter's stories eventually intersect in a way that I found very satisfying. I thought it was a great read from start to finish.
on 26 September 2006
Having read all of William Boyd's other novels, I eagerly awaited this new one. Also, the papers were full of good reviews for the book, calling it exciting and the best read of the year so far.
Not too sure if they read the same book as me becasue this was not up to his usual standards. It's poorly edited with too many type errors and too many repeated words and descriptions. It reads as if it was rushed.
In an recent article, Boyd srote of how he had studies the Cambridge spies and loosely based one character on Kim Philby. If so, it is a very very loose base and not one that works too well.
The ending is weak and the plot all too obvious from an early stage.
Unfortunately not his best.
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 4 March 2007
'Restless' is a confident, pacey novel by a brilliantly mature writer. Switching between seventies Oxford, pre-war Europe and a US on the point of entering the second world war, it builds and maintains an impressive, page-turning momentum. Much has been made of Boyd writing as a woman but it doesn't seem to matter; there is little sex or eroticism in the novel (for which much thanks), but much passion and longing, and maybe this serves to illustrate that, at the emotional level, there is less difference between the sexes than we like to imagine. More problematic is the sketchiness of much of the characterization (though personally I had no difficulty fleshing out the characters for myself) and the oddness of the structure - Eva's story is presented as the manuscript of a memoir which she has been writing, but really doesn't read as such. Ruth (Eva's daughter) doesn't add much to the overall story and it's hard to see why it couldn't have been written straight, as a first person narrative... or as a simple memoir, a form for which Boyd has shown fondness in the past. In the end though, the novel is easily strong enough to overcome such problems, creating an almost tangible sense of gnawing unease, paranoia and often nameless terror which begins almost as a game for Eva but ends by almost choking the lives of both her and her daughter. Better than I'm making it sound, a tough but tremendously readable novel.
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.
I inherited a copy of Restless after it changed hands three times in as many weeks. All three readers said it was great, so my expectations were high. Boyd didn't let me down. I've never read any of his stuff before (maybe a bit put off by silly titles like "An Ice Cream War") but I will certainly be checking out his back catalogue after this. Restless is intricate, intimate and intriguing. It takes us inside the mind of a spy and keeps us guessing throughout, so much so that it's hard to write a review that won't spoil the fun. (In fact, you shouldn't even read the back cover of the book until the end of the first chapter, since it reveals the surprise from which the entire narrative unfolds!)
The story drip-feeds adrenaline, with surprises and shocks bursting upon the reader in almost every chapter, and the book bounces between twin narratives to sustain the tension. As a result, by the end you are so jolted and excited that it is hard for Boyd to pull a real gobsmacking denouement out of the hat. He delivers a satisfying, but not mind-blowing, ending, which rounds the excellent book off nicely.
I understand other reviewers' gripes about the subplots, but I don't really share them. Boyd may not tie up every loose end, but that's just real life, and anybody who expects everything to be resolved may be better off with Miss Marple. I thoroughly enjoyed this. An Ice Cream War must be mind-bendingly good.