Simon Mawer’s (The Glass Room) latest gift to his avid followers is the first of a projected two-volume novel about a familiar subject: World War II. This time, however, he’s approaching it from a French and English perspective, rather than from a central European viewpoint. During the war, Britain’s Special Operations Executive (SOE) program trained agents to work behind enemy lines, to aid in the resistance movement and to provide much-needed intelligence to the Allies. Mawer’s story pays homage to the women of the SOE, and is told from the point of view of Marian Sutro, a young British woman who grew up in Switzerland and France, and who is fluent in French.
Recruited by the SOE at age 19, she quickly gains espionage and combat skills while losing the last of her innocence. Her papers, her demeanor, and all exterior signs now indicate that she is Anne-Marie Laroche, a French student; inside, she carefully conceals what is left of Marian. The danger of discovery and betrayal is very real, as are the atrocities the invading Germans inflict on both country peasants and Parisian sophisticates. Marian/Anne-Marie fights loneliness, isolation, and hunger, driven by the need to make a difference but not knowing if anyone will be there to catch her as she makes her leap of faith.
Mawer’s representations of England and France — both rural and urban — are at once eerily quiet and bustling with confusion, as he illustrates the fateful moments in a war and in a young woman’s life. Who Marian/Anne-Marie is, who she loves, and who she is to become are questions only partly answered in this first volume, which will leave readers clamoring for Mawer to finish the sequel, and resolve this intriguing, gripping tale. Don’t expect to sleep much in the meantime.
The Girl Who Fell from the Sky
384 (US), 320 (UK)