Little, Brown Book Group UK
Pub Date: Jun 4 2015
The latest novel from Simon Mawer is a sequel to his previous work, “The Girl Who Fell from the Sky”, a novel that, I must confess, did very little for me. I had loved his previous novel, the Booker short-listed – “The Glass Room” (and I’ll whisper this so no ones can hear me – I thought it, not Wolf Hall, should have won) – but I just felt that ” The Girl Who Fell from the Sky” lacked that special something to make it a great spy thriller. I wanted Le Carre, I got … actually, I’m not sure what I got instead, but I wasn’t really engaged. As a result I wasn’t especially looking forward to “Tightrope”. So, imagine my surprise then, when it rescue’s a lot of what was wrong with that previous novel: fills in some gaps, adds depth and delivers a level of interest I found lacking.
One again the focus of the story is Marian Sutro, a young woman of French and English parentage who had been recruited by the Special Operations Executive during the second world war and sent on a mission to Paris, where she was caught, tortured and eventually sent to Ravensbruck POW camp. At the start of Tightrope she has escaped and been returned home.
Our narrator this time around is Samuel Wareham . Now a British agent, he had first met Marion – a friend of the family – when he was a child. He immediately fell in love.
As a result we are hearing Marion’s story through him. For most of the novel we are never quite clear where the information in his story comes from. Is he a unreliable narrator? Is he just taking some basis facts and weaving a story around them? The story?
Marian has returned home. She is a hero. She is convinced however that her capture was no accident and that someone on her own side betrayed her. She has also lost the love of the man she loved. She doesn’t know how to be ‘normal’ . Indeed this is a novel about – how do you just ‘go back to normal’ ( a question that is still pertinent to soldier returning from battle today). For Marian her plan is to forget it all. She allows herself to be charmed by a RAF pilot and tries to be a normal wife. But she can’t do it. Another relationship tests her resolve and throws up the moral question of what does patriotism really mean. Also with nuclear weapons ending the war does this patriotism always sit well with the greater good.
It is to Mawer’s credit that despite not a great deal actually occurring plot-wise that he manages to keep the underlying tension in the book high. He clearly likes Marion as a character, and as I reader I like her more after this second helping of her life. It is convincing on the time period and like David Lagercrantz’s enthralling “Fall from Grace in Wilmslow” it is also on the money on the sexual politics of the time too. It’s a wonderful read. In part, this is because like all Mawer’s books, it is exquisitely written. There are few authors in the English language writing today whose work reads better.
“The the train began to edge forward, slowly but inexorably, like a glacier; the faster like a river, until finally it was streaming out of the station in a torrent, leaving her stranded on the bank”
“Tightrope” works as a standalone novel, and you certainly do not need to have read “The Girl Who Fell from the Sky”, to enjoy it, but it is funny that I may have enjoyed this novel more precisely because I had read, and had felt a little disappointed in that novel. Glad to see Mawer back on form.
Review copy provided by Little Brown / Netgalley