Monday, July 25, 2016

Restless by William Boyd

How wonderful it is for an old chronic reader to continue to discover that there are exciting writers out there whom one has never read. Thanks to a dear reader friend, I recently discovered the British writer, William Boyd, and I am already deep into a second novel of his. Today, I want to tell you about a deeply satisfying spy thriller, Restless. In just the past few weeks, and by happenstance rather than plan, I have read several novels about the years leading up to WWII. This novel takes the reader back and forth between 1976 and 1939. The star character is a woman with the delectable name of Eva Delectorskaya. Rather than than simply skipping over the rather tongue-tying name once I had read it, I found myself stopping to savor the exotic name each time it occurred, and since The Story of Eva Delectorskaya is returned to again and again in the course of the novel, I said the name to myself over and over.

Since this is more-or-less a mystery novel, I will not reveal much to you as potential readers. But I can tell you that the novel begins with a woman handing over to her daughter a manuscript.
’I’d like you to read this’ she said.
I took it from her. There seemed to be some dozens of pages—different types, different sizes of paper. I opened it. There was a title page: The Story of Eva Delectorskaya.
‘Eva Delectorskaya,’ I said, mystified. “Who’s that?’
‘Me,’ she said. ‘I am Eva Delectorskaya.”
The daughter, who has always seen her mother as a rather bland, ordinary woman who lives sheltered away outside a tiny village in the heart of England, soon comes to realize “that bitter dark current of fear that flowed beneath the placid surface of her ordinary life…”  She has been hiding under a new name, a marriage and family for forty years, but she is still afraid, "always frightened that someone was going to come and kill her. And she had good reasons.”

While the spy-thriller theme keeps the reader on edge and turning pages, I found this novel to be most interesting for its richly developed characters (especially Eva), and for the clever ways in which the past and present are finally merged so that mother and daughter are united in common struggle.

Few male writers manage to convincingly write through the eyes of a woman lead character, but in this novel both Sally Gilmartin (a.k.a. Eva Delectorskaya), and her daughter, Ruth, a single mother who is trying to make sense of her own life, are developed patiently and slowly by the author, so that they are believable and deeply interesting human beings. While Eva’s past is certainly more glamorous and thrilling, Ruth’s life as a teacher of English as a second language is a great counterpoint to Eva’s. Both women are in many ways outwardly cool, and there is little physical or emotional warmth between them. Still, as Ruth learns more and more about her mother’s past, she is able to understand both her mother and herself on a new and much deeper level.

Eva is recruited into the British Secret Service as a way of trying to retaliate against the killers of her younger brother at the hands of British fascists.  She is sent to New York to work for the B.S.C. (British  Security Coordination) whose job it is to plant stories in American journals that are aimed at drawing the United States into the war against Germany that is raging in Europe. She is eventually sent to New Mexico in an attempt to circulate a fake map indicating German plans to occupy South American and control the Panama Canal.

Acting under the injunction of the man who recruited her, “Never trust anyone!”, Eva is left to her own devices when she is about to be killed by German sympathizers, and those devices lead to acts that have on the run for the rest of her life.

Although I knew nothing about Boyd when I began this novel, I’ve since read a good deal about him. It is obvious that his novels are superbly researched, so besides the intriguing stories of Eva and Ruth, the reader leans a lot about the extensive British spy networks working in the U.S. trying to tip America into the war. I am now reading another of his novels, Sweet Caress, that is as different from Restless as can be. He obviously has rich and varied talents. I intend to read all of his fiction, and to look at his non-fiction as well. His command of the language is amazing, and he shows a lovely heart as well as an excellent intellect. Once I started this novel, I couldn’t put it down, and read it in two days.

I think he is a superb story-teller, and I think you will think the same once you read him. My hunch is that any of his many novels you start with will grab your attention and lead you to read more of his work.

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