Random House UK, Cornerstone
Pub Date: Jan 28, 2016
I quite enjoyed Helen Dunmore’s first couple of novels. Good characters, interesting stories. Then we parted ways a bit, before I returned for ‘The Greycoat’ in 2012. It was utter tosh, and I wished I hadn’t have bothered. BUT, I’ve always remember her at her best, and just how well she writes post world war two 1940s/50s.
Exposure drops us at the end of this period (just scrapping in the 1960s). We are in London and the story revolves around a secret file that has been removed from the Admiralty by Giles Holloway. No one is supposed to know the file has been removed, as Giles plans to merely take it for the evening and return it unnoticed the following day. However, an accident means this is impossible to accomplish without help. So Giles turns to colleague Simon Callington, and asks him to retrieve and return the file. But something stops Simon from handing the file back. He thinks he knows why Giles wanted it returned so quickly. Soon Simon is arrested and charged with a breach of Official Secrets Act. But he doesn’t know the briefcase containing the file is now buried deep in the earth at the bottom of his back garden.
Exposure is set against the backdrop of actual events – most notably the Portland Spy Ring – where five people were arrested for breach of Official Secrets Act and plotting to self secrets about Britain’s first nuclear submarine to Russia. Although their story is separate from the fictional events of this novel – their existence is mentioned in passing. [The official report into the spy ring pointed finger at lax security at the Admiralty for the leaked information].
A spy story then? A cold war thriller? Yes, and no. The book does have an emotional and traditional spy thriller tension, but this book, like all of Dunmore’s previous work, is primarily about relationships, love, and the secrets in our pasts. We are drawn into the lives and thoughts of Giles and Simon, and of Simon’s wife – Lily (the true star of the book) and their children, Paul, Sally and Bridget. All do what they must to protect themselves and/or the ones that they love and to avoid the consequences of their own exposure.
There is a genuine humanity to Dunmore’s characters, which lifts the book above what might otherwise be a stock cold war thriller . These are multi-layered, real, flawed individuals. You feel their inner torment. There is a believability to their actions and to their words. You care.
Exposure marks a return to the exciting and engaging prose that made Dunmore originally worth reading. It is her best novel in years.
Review copy supplied by Random House/Netgalley