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I discovered this book in a charity shop. It still had its "book club" sticker on the front. Having read a few book club novels before and enjoying them, I thought I would take the risk!! Its original price was £7.99 which I always think is a bit steep for a paperback. I however, only paid a pound for it. Having read it and not being able to put it down I have to say it would have been worth £7.99 after all.
This is a very well crafted book, so much so that I would almost call it a work of art. William Boyd compares favourably to some of the other writers around today. Boyd explains the lives of two women Eva Delectorskaya - ex-British spy, and her daughter Ruth - an English teacher for foreign students. In their quest to finally right a wrong from the second world war.
The chapters alternate between the WWII and 1976. It is so well written (sometimes sending me rushing to the dictionary to discover the meaning of this new word for my vocabulary!) that I couldn't wait for the next chapter to start so that you can find out what was happening in the other era.
Eva and Ruth both come across as very intelligent, resourceful and bright characters. In the case of Eva -pitting her wits against the very best of the espionage world in WWII and having to build a new life for herself in an effort to keep herself safe and alive. And Ruth who has to survive in the 1970's as a single mum using her language skills to earn a living to bring up her son, Jochen.
I found this novel very hard to put down. It is atmospheric and believable, I shall be reading more of Boyd's novels in the future. Especially if I can find them at a pound. If it has a fault then maybe at 325 pages it is a little on the short side. Still if that's the only disadvantage I can find it cant be all bad.
"Restless" is a book set in two time periods - WWII and the period just preceding it and 1970s Britain. The book begins with a first person narrative and as a reader I found it a bit confusing as I wasn't sure who the narrator was.
The narrator turns out to be Ruth, a young single mother, thinking about her mother and when "It all started". The book changes time period each chapter, with the WWII storyline entitled "The Story of Eva Delectorskaya". The narration style changes to third person narrative and we learn that Ruth is reading the story of her mother's secret past.
Ruth discovers that her mother is in fact Russian and was working as a spy for Britain during WWII. I found the wartime storyline very interesting and Eva's character quite believable. She is offered the chance of a British passport if she works for a branch of British intelligence run by a man called Lucas Romer.
Lucas is an intriguing character as Eva is never sure what he is thinking or doing. She doesn't even know what branch of intelligence she is working for through Lucas. His team are all as suspicious as him and no one trusts anyone else.
The details of Eva's training to become the perfect spy and her later work both in Europe and America make interesting reading. There is a lot regarding Britain's efforts to convince America to join the war and their extreme reluctance to do so.
I found the switches back to Ruth's storyline in 1970s Britain a bit annoying and not terribly interesting to be honest. Yes she is in turmoil as she finds out about her mother's secret past but apart from that I wasn't drawn in by her situation.
We look at Ruth's lifestyle and why she is a single mother and her work as an English Foreign Language teacher. The interaction with her various students can be amusing as can her exchanges with her young son Jochen.
The only interesting part of the 1970s storyline was the mystery of why Eva was finally revealing all this information to Ruth. Eva is shown to be a very manipulative person and is using her past as a way to get Ruth to do things for her.
Eva is portrayed as being quite cold towards her daughter and is also shown to be very paranoid. She is constantly looking over her shoulder and Ruth comes to realise why as she continues to read her mother's story.
I felt that the more modern storyline was quite dull and was really only a vehicle for Eva's story and to keep the tension up. Boyd would build up a situation with Eva and then leave the reader wanting more by switching back to Ruth's storyline. I must admit that this worked well as I kept reading to find out what happened.
I found the ending quite disappointing to be honest and felt that it let down the book a bit. There was quite a big build-up and the predominant scene felt quite flat to me. However, I also felt a bit like that with the whole 1970s part of the book - Ruth is an inoffensive character most of the time but can be a bit irritating.
The blurb on the back of the book made the plot sound like more of a thriller than it actually was. I expected there to be a lot more focus on the WWII storyline and Eva's work as a spy than there was.
I would recommend this book for the WWII parts of the story but the two time periods didn't quite gell for me. Eva's reasons for telling Ruth about her past seem a bit flimsy and not all that compelling.
I enjoyed this book and although it was never a great read it was very readable. There were some very tense moments in Eva's storyline which were well handled but the whole Ruth part just dragged it down for me.
I do feel quite ambivalent about this book and am finding it difficult to pinpoint exactly why. It was well written and the storyline was (mostly) interesting. I think I just felt that the book could have been so much better than it turned out to be. Perhaps it was just that I thought it would predominantly be a spy thriller and it wasn't.
All in all, I would say this is a good book overall but just not as I expected it to be.
This review is also posted on Ciao.co.uk under my username.
Ruth Gilmartin is a single mother, working on her Masters thesis and teaching English as a Second Language in Oxford. Her mother, Sally, has decided to write down the story of her experiences during WW2 and give them to Ruth. This is when Ruth discovers that the woman she grew up with was actually Eva Delectorskaya - a Russian who moved to Paris and was recruited to be a spy for England in 1939 after her brother was found dead. The problem is, Eva is certain that her story didn't end there, and now she feels its time for her last job. But without her daughter Ruth's help, her mission can't be accomplished. This is the story of William Boyd's novel "Restless".
I'm not a spy thriller type of person, but this book can't really be classified totally in that genre. Boyd's novel is more a psychological investigation into deception and self-discovery than a real spy novel. The action takes place over the unusually hot summer of 1976, while Eva's story takes place over 35 years prior to that. This gives us two stories here - Eva's past, and Ruth's present. As the story progresses, things within these women's lives also heat up. One of Ruth's students professes his affection for her, while she ends up with house-guests that might be running from trouble abroad. Sal's actions seem to become erratic while at the same time she reveals the carefully planned out steps she took to go from being Eva to the mother and grandmother she is today. Finding out that your mother has lived her life as a lie, certainly can be an eye-opening experience. This makes Ruth begin to wonder about her relationship with her mother, as well as how her own life is progressing. Finally, Boyd also uses the upsurge of protests against the Shah of Iran that took place at that time to remind us that what we thought then, is far different from what we know now. This last element is basically the main theme of this book - an analysis of the past as a means for action in the present.
While all this seems complex, especially for a novel that only runs 325 pages, Boyd's prose actually has a very calm feel to it. In fact, I couldn't help thinking that this was the most evenly written book I'd ever read. The prose is carefully written in a "matter of fact" fashion, that feels well balanced, but with almost with no emotion at all. This, of course, lends itself to the mystery feeling of the book and is a good counterpoint to the mixture of feelings that both women experience as their stories progress. In order to tell both these stories, the point of view here shifts between Ruth and her life, and Sal's story of Eva, through alternate chapters. This is a tried-and-true literary mechanic that lends itself perfectly to such parallel stories, and allows two voices to run consecutively throughout the book. Of course, this is usually done using two first person accounts, but Boyd has opted to use mostly third person in both stories. Again, this lends another air of detachment here, while also allowing us to observe these women's inner worlds as well as their physical actions. That Boyd actually gets into the hearts and minds of these two women is his way of attaching intimacy to a usually impersonal point of view.
All the more remarkable here is that Boyd - being a man - has been so very able to portray two women. That's not often the case, and most writers are usually better at writing characters of their own sex. However, you don't actually get to feel very close to either of these women, and it isn't like you'll have a terribly clear picture in your mind as to what they look like. Still, Boyd has managed even without that to make us feel real empathy for these characters, which isn't all that easy to do. Moreover, the character development here can only be called graceful. It's as if things happen here almost in slow motion, and yet the ramifications of each step along the way are ones that could easily snowball out of control.
I also have to say that I truly liked how this book ended. While not all the loose ends were tied up neatly, there certainly was a feeling of conclusion. Yes, we are left with certain questions in our minds, but none of them are terribly important ones, so we don't feel cheated when we turn the last page. We also get the feeling that these women's lives will continue on after this story, although never the same as before. That's what I look for in a book - one where the characters drive the story and we feel that they are real, flesh and blood.
I'm sure you can tell from all this that I think William Boyd's "Restless" is simply a wonderful book. The characters are beautifully drawn, with an eye towards revealing just enough at just the right pace to keep our interest. The plot is deceptively simple, while layered with psychological and emotional issues. Boyd also uses parallels and metaphor to point up certain internal aspects of these women's tales, without getting overly dramatic. This isn't a fast paced spy novel, but it never lags and you'll find yourself wanting to know what's going to happen on the next page. Bottom line: this is a very interesting story and Boyd writes it with total aplomb. I'll give it a full five stars out of five and highly recommend it.
Thanks for reading!
Davida Chazan © June 2008
Available on Amazon new for £4.99 or through their marketplace from £0.01.
Paperback: 336 pages
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC;
New Ed edition (2 Jan 2007)
picked up this book because I was drawn to it by the blurb on the back, and was not disappointed by this part of the story.
I was, however, disappointed by the fact that episodes were alternated with incidents in the life of Eva's daughter. I can see why this was done - so that the reader could discover things at the same time as the daugher - but I found it annoying. I also felt patronised by the way chapter headings denote which time-frame is being described.
Having said that, I did like the book. I am not a fan of twentieth century history, and was surprised how interesting I found it. The parts set in 1976 didn't tell the reader anything at all about that time period, and I think that younger readres might have found that interesting had it been included.
Fab climax, but a rather disappointing ending
In offering a review of a novel by William Boyd I could certainly be accused of bias. I would proudly plead guilty, since I regard him as one of just four or five British writers who are capable of constructing supreme works of fiction, written in a framework that is both informative and thought-provoking and all this set within a continuum of contemporary or historical events which themselves become re-interpreted by the fiction. In Restless, Boyds latest novel, he has re-stated this ability and, if anything, written it larger via a smaller form.
The historical element in Restless is supplied by the activities of an offshoot of World War Two intelligence. Ostensibly a private, dis-ownable initiative of a particular group, Boyd suggests that it formed an integral part of the British strategy, during the early part of the war, to force the United States to join the Allied effort. The fact, therefore, that it was undermined and subverted so that it perhaps aimed to achieve the opposite of its brief was probably par for the course when espionage meets its freelance counter, but the denouement is surprising and wholly credible.
In front of this backdrop of fact meeting fiction, we have a landscape of human relationships. Ruth is a single mother in Oxford. She, herself, has had certain German connections, nay relations, hence the motherhood. She makes a living teaching English to foreign tutees, has several dubious visitors, dreams about completing an aging PhD and generally spends much of her time looking after a precocious five-year-old. And then her mother becomes someone quite unknown to her. The widow in the Oxfordshire retreat suddenly becomes part Russian, part English, with a French step-mother. She possessed several different identities before she became Mrs Gilmartin and most of these were fiction to provide cover for the others. How many of us, after all, can claim to have known our parents before they were parents?
So, as Mrs Gilmartin the mother reveals to her daughter via instalments of an autobiography that she is really Eva Delectorskaya, recruited in Paris to conduct a campaign of wartime disinformation in the United States, the complications of life gradually attain the status of the mundane. Recruited, perhaps, because she was rootless and thus expendable, Eva proved herself intellectually and operationally superior to her manipulative managers and survived the posting that was supposed to achieve their subverted ends and, at the same time, erase her potential to supply evidence. Many years later, Eva, now Mrs Gilmartin, feels the need to get even, to expose the double or triple-cross for what it was and deliver at least a prod to the comfortable, self-congratulatory but traitorous British establishment that ran her. Daughter Ruth becomes the means.
So one messy life tries to tie up its soggy ends via the actions of another who is apparently yet to attain the same depths of complication. And she succeeds. The fright is delivered. The memory that Eva, the mother, was fundamentally brighter than the upper class Brits who were trying to manipulate her is rekindled. Her training was perfect, but she went beyond it and the plan backfired, irrelevantly as it turned out because greater events intervened. But years later, Eva, Mrs Gilmartin, is still brighter than her boss and, through her daughters efforts, she brings a special kind of justice to bear on the double-dealer who ruined, but also perhaps made her life.
In characteristically humble terms, William Boyd reminds us at the end that we are all watched, all awaiting the cupboard to reveal its skeleton, but in our more mundane lives, it is unlikely to be as colourful an event as that which Eva Delectorskaya, Mrs Gilmartin, and her daughter Ruth uncover.
This is another book from the Richard and Judy Book Club 2007. I read this book while I was on holiday; it is the third book that I have read from the Richard and Judy selection and the first I have read by William Boyd.
~ The Author ~
William Boyd was born in Accra, Ghana, on 7 March 1952. He has written many novels and won many awards. His other work includes, An Ice-Cream War, A Good Man in Africa and Brazzaville Beach. Restless is his latest novel, published in 2006.
~ The Book ~
This novel is about a female spy in World War II. Eva Delectorskaya was recruited for the British Secret Service by an Englishman named Lucas Romer, when she was 28 years old. Eva received excellent training as a spy and worked with the British Secret Service in America during WWII.
After working for the British Secret Service, Eva moves to England and lives a life as a typical English woman named Sally Gilmartin. The book opens on a chapter written in first person from Ruths point of view. Ruth is Sallys daughter. The end of this chapter sees Sally giving Ruth a memoir The Story of Eva Delectorskaya. When Sally tells Ruth that she is Eva, Ruth is obviously very surprised, as she doesnt know anything about this part of her mothers history. The memoir is written in third person.
The chapters alternate between Eva and Ruth and this keeps the story going at a good pace. The book puts across that once a spy, always a spy an there is one final mission that Sally/Eva must carry out and for this she needs her daughters help
I enjoyed reading about the characters in the 1940s during the war, as well as in the 1970s, in Ruths chapters. I felt that the characters werent developed as well as they could have been but I still empathised with them and enjoyed hearing about their lives. Ruth teaches English as a Foreign Language in Oxford and she lives with her young son, Jochen. I enjoyed reading about Ruth and how she felt about the discoveries she was making about her mother but most of it wasnt compelling. In fact, I wasnt really hooked until two-thirds of the way through (I did enjoy it from near the beginning though).
I enjoy reading books about life in WWI and WWII so I was looking forward to reading this book. I have to admit though that I dont know much about the politics, especially in America, during WWII. I found this book was a little bit too heavy in parts, as at first I didnt know if what I was reading was based on truth. It is well written though and is very believable. There were some pages I had to reread when I was reading Evas story, as it was all about the work of the British Secret Service and some parts were a little difficult to take in. Dont get me wrong though, I dont think it is essential that you know about what happened in America before Pearl Harbour to enjoy this story because I still enjoyed the book overall.
Some parts of Evas story were very compelling and I enjoyed reading on to find out what was going to happen next. Sometimes, just as I was getting really into Evas story, I would be disappointed to see I was back to Ruth and have to wait to find out more. I also felt a bit like this when reading Ruth, though generally her chapters were shorter, so didnt give much opportunity to really get hooked. A lot of Ruths chapters were about her life as a teacher and life with her son. I found these made a nice change but I didnt really think they linked much to what was going with the main theme of the book, (apart from the fact that Ruth and Jochen are relatives of Eva.)
There were some aspects of the story, in Ruths chapters that I found slightly confusing but not for long. I think this is because it was set in 1976 and I dont know a lot about what went on then either.
I think the title of the book was very appropriate but this isn't clear immediately.
~ Overall ~
The book started off a little bit slow but after I had read a few chapters, I was quite into it. As I have previously mentioned, it got really compelling towards the last third of the book, when I was beginning to guess what was going to happen (though I wasnt always right!). I thought the ending was quite good and it wasnt really what I was expecting, though thinking about what had happened previously I could see how it built up to this. Overall, I enjoyed reading this book, though so far I prefer the other two books that I have read from the Richard and Judy Book Club. I have never read any of Boyds previous work so I cannot compare it to these. I would recommend this book and I may look out for some of Boyds other work.
I have given this book a mark out of 10 for four different elements of the book. I have then given it an overall rating. I will do this for each of the Richard and Judy Book Club books to see how they compare.
28/40 = 70%
~ Boring Stuff ~
RRP £7.99 (Amazon have it for £3.99)
Paperback: 336 pages
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC
In Brazzaville Beach (1990) Boyd wrote a 1st-person narrative from a womans point of view, & the novel won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize. In Restless, his 9th & most recent novel, he employs a parallel narrative structure, & writes from 2 womens viewpoints.
The book opens with Ruth Gilmartin, a single ESL teacher who lives in Oxford with her young son, visiting her retired widowed mother, Sally Gilmartin, during the long hot summer of 1976 (that summer when England reeled, gasping for breath, pole-axed by the unending heat). Her mother lives in rural Oxfordshire & is acting strangely, nervously scanning the dense woods behind her remote cottage through binoculars, & feigning injury, it seems, in order to take to a wheelchair. As Ruth is leaving Sally hands her what proves to be the first instalment of a manuscript entitled The Story of Eva Delectorskaya. When she asks who Eva Delectorskaya is her mother replies: I am.
Eva, we learn, was a beautiful Russian émigrée living in Paris who was recruited as a spy for the British by the dashing, mysterious Lucas Romer in 1939, when she was 29. In each chapter of Restless Eva delivers a section of her autobiography to Ruth, so that her account of her career in espionage alternates with her daughters narrative, set in the novels present, until the 2 timelines converge towards the end. This is a rather clunky structural device you wonder why Ruth & her mother dont simply talk more between deliveries but never mind.
Writing about herself in the 3rd person, Eva tells a compelling tale of multiple identities, codes & passwords, secret assignations, violence, betrayal, pursuit. The covert British campaign of propaganda & misinformation set in America in 1941, intended to persuade them to enter the war, is informative as well as being exciting. In her world, concealment is everything, & nothing is as it seems: motives are veiled, events are difficult to interpret. It is a paradox that those involved with intelligence operations dont have a good view of reality; as Eva says, We were like miners chipping away at the coalface miles underground we hadn't a clue about how the mining industry was run on the surface.
Once a spy, always a spy: you never stop hiding. As we learn the reasons for Evas present-day nervousness, Ruths side of the story generates further suspense & an atmosphere of menace. Are her uninvited German lodgers linked to the Baader-Meinhof gang? Are the activities of an Iranian student who has a crush on her being monitored by the Shahs notorious secret police, Savak? Who can she trust? Boyd strews both narrative strands with plenty of red herrings to keep us guessing & maintain an atmosphere of paranoia.
He is particularly adept at characterization, & Eva, Ruth, & many of the supporting cast are vividly brought to life. With Eva, he is interested in exploring the subterfuge-dominated life of someone without a fixed identity someone who has personas rather than a personality. We deduce that Ruths rootlessness & wariness, her self-sufficiency, her inability to finish her PhD thesis & get on with her life, derive from the shifting sand of her mothers existence. Both mother & daughter are restless.
The book undoubtedly has its weaknesses. Credible ideological motivation is lacking completely, & the denouement isnt entirely convincing, especially given the verisimilitude of what has gone before. As always with Boyds work, however, it is immensely entertaining & enjoyable. Although he is a literary novelist he is mainly concerned with constructing a solid narrative & telling a good story. You want to know what happens next. (He also makes you smile occasionally; some of his early novels & screenplays A Good Man in Africa, Stars & Bars, Dutch Girls were laugh-out-loud funny.) Restless, his first foray into the genre of the spy novel, doesnt have the textural density of, say, a Greene or Le Carre novel, but Boyds lightness of touch, his skill at setting scenes, delineating character & describing action with a few deft sentences, lend his work a marvellous readability
`Boyd is English fiction's master storyteller ... Restless is that rare thing: a spy thriller from a first-rate narrative intelligence'