I find it difficult to decide whether I actually liked this book. It’s certainly an achievement and I do like fiction set in postwar Britain. However, I found the novel somehow unsatisfying.
The plot is in the form of flashbacks as an elderly woman is dying. Juliet Armstrong is recruited to MI5 for the Second World War at the age of eighteen. Her main task is to transcribe the conversations of Nazi sympathisers but she is involved in some horrible deed, which then resurfaces in the fifties, while she’s working for the BBC’s Schools broadcasting service. I found the first half of the book very readable and interesting. Much of it is set during the war and partly focuses on Juliet’s relationship with Perry, her supervisor. However, the aftermath didn’t appeal to me as much. I missed Perry and would have preferred him to be there throughout the story. I was also a little confused by the number of characters, especially when they returned after being out of the story for several chapters and I couldn’t remember who they were.
I liked the authentic tone of the novel, particularly the dialogue and Juliet’s thoughts. What Juliet has gone through is shown in her character development, from the fun and cynically romantic teenager of the forties to the hardened and secretive woman of the fifties. I didn’t like her much though. I’m not sure if I was supposed to.
There’s been a lot of buzz about this book since it was published last year. Maybe I’m missing something. I’m certainly glad that I’ve read it, and there were several aspects that I admired. When I was nearing the end of the story, I put the book down and left it for three days. This suggests that the plot at this point wasn’t compelling enough, because I wasn’t eager to know the ending.
Thanks very much to Bookish Chat for passing on a copy of the book to me.