Ike and Kay
During World War II, British senior military officials and American media sources alike were scandalised by the close relationship between Ike Eisenhower, the US general tasked with winning the war in Europe, and his driver, a British-Irish woman in her mid-thirties, the attractive Kay Summersby. James MacManus’s novel describes the relationship between the two, primarily from Kay’s perspective, but also from the perspective of Eisenhower himself, and even from that of other historical figures such as the Nazi commander, Rommel, and Eisenhower’s wife, Mamie. While it is a fictional account, MacManus draws heavily from history. The relationship is in the foreground, but the war and the tactical decisions made by Eisenhower and other military leaders and troops are never far in the background.
Although this is billed as a love story, MacManus’s focus on the war rather than the participants, together with large tracts of historical description, means that the reader never fully gets into the characters’ minds—or their hearts. The characters seem to be lacking in affection; the word “love” is used, but Ike and Kay appear fond, rather than passionate, about one other. MacManus’s techniques also borrow from non-fiction: events are described from several characters’ viewpoints. A character in the middle of a mundane action will flash back to a more exciting moment, robbing events of their immediacy. I would have preferred a straight work of non-fiction; as it was, it felt like I was reading non-fiction with the occasional non-raunchy sex scene and mild speculation about the thoughts and emotions of the characters.
Ike and Kay is historical fiction for those who prefer the emphasis on the history. The unusual and intriguing story of a relationship I was not previously aware of makes for an interesting, if not compelling, read.