Monday, January 26, 2009
I read William Boyd's novel Restless in a day and a bit (give or take a few hours for necessities like eating and sleeping). It was a perfect book for the moment (that being mid-way through my long summer holidays, in the middle of a heat wave and with plenty of time on my hands). Please forgive my review though, which might be rather shallow- I read this book quickly and it was a few weeks (and a couple of books) ago, and I'm embarrassed to admit that it has already faded a bit from my memory.
Restless alternates between a hot summer in England in the 1970's and pre-WWII Europe, London and America. In the 70's we follow Ruth who is a single mother and English language tutor to non-English speakers. She has been given a document by her mother, Sally, which reveals that Sally is, in fact, Eva Delectorskaya, who was recruited to the English Secret Service in the years before WWII after the murder of her brother Kolia. Eva/ Sally's memories are revealed slowly as alternate chapters in the book and it is these chapters that I found most exciting. It describes Eva's training, and her first real mission in Belgium, all under the watchful eye of Lucas Rohmer, the mysterious agent responsible for her recruitment. This half of the novel reads much like a traditional spy novel, or rather, what I imagine a traditional spy novel would be like, given that it's not a genre that I've read much. Eva's story is exciting and mysterious and full of the kind of cloak and dagger stuff totally sucks in the reader.
Back in the 1970's, Eva/ Sally, who has been living a fairly staid rural life in a quiet English village for many years, has begun to believe that she is in danger once more. Her daughter Ruth is enlisted to help Eva investigate some of the details of her past and to help her uncover current dangers. Ruth is, understandably, stunned to find out about her mother's past and curious enough to help her with her current situation. Ruth also has to navigate some of her own personal problems, from the unwanted house guests that won't leave her flat, to her unsatisfying romantic life.
It's hard to say much more about the plot without giving away some rather fun twists in the story. This is a gripping and entertaining novel with a quite haunting message about the long term consequences of a life steeped in suspicion and betrayal. The title refers to the restlessness of the spy who can never really trust anyone, never really relax again.
My only complaint about Restless might be that I found the parts set in the 1970's slightly less interesting that the flashbacks to Eva's spy years. I also felt that at times Boyd didn't quite capture the voice of Ruth Gilmartin who narrates this part of the book. Interestingly enough, both my husband (who read the book after me) and I thought the narrator was male before she was specifically referred to as a woman. This might be because the author is male, but I do feel that she had a more 'male' voice at times, that the character wasn't quite well-realised enough.
Overall, I found Restless a really enjoyable, un-put-downable read. I was totally swept up in the world of espionage and was genuinely surprised by some of the twists and turns in the plot. The hot English summer described in the book was a perfect match for the long, hot summer days we have been having here.