Sunday, February 28, 2010
Don’t you love a good spy thriller? I do, except not the Cold War era ones. I also love William Boyd. I read Brazzaville Beach years ago and loved it, but hadn’t gotten around to anything else by him until now.
Restless is a classic World War II spy story, complete with the usual characters, but the spy is a woman, Eva Delectorskaya. The story is told mostly in flashback as present-day Eva (now known as Sally) finally confesses her history to her grown daughter Ruth. Up until this point Ruth had no idea that her mother was anything other than what she seemed: a middle class British housewife. Instead she discovers that her mother was a Russian-born emigree who spent the war years working for British Intelligence, eventually having to assume another identity after an operation that went horribly wrong. Now, Eva wants revenge on the spy who betrayed her, and she enlists Ruth to help her. Yet once a spy, always a spy, it seems, and Eva's ability to shade the truth and manipulate other people hasn't left her. Even one's own daughter can be a useful tool in a spy's arsenal, it turns out. It’s extremely satisfying.
My favorite aspect of this story is the way Eva’s past is gradually revealed to Ruth and how Ruth’s understanding of her mother changes. My children think I am very dull; how I would love to tell them that I really am a spy who knows how to kill someone using just a pencil. Or maybe not. Best to let them think I am harmless so as not to alert MI5.
The Guardian has a good review of this book. It came out in 2006, and this year Boyd has a new book out that sounds equally compelling; I was originally in search of that one when I came upon Restless.
(Book 11, 2010)