Out of the West
This book begins with a quote from the Odyssey, which is appropriate enough for a novel set partly in Greece. The quote is, however, in ancient Greek. My assumption is that this is supposed to intrigue the reader. I’m afraid that in my case at least, it only irritated.
The novel contains a dual narrative: Thea and Petros, in Greece in the 1920s-40s, and Ian and Clare, who both work in British Intelligence during and after World War II. The two stories are linked via Ian, who meets Thea and Petros in the course of his wartime exploits.
The novel is perfectly readable: the story moves along swiftly, with plenty of incident and interest. The characters each face a number of moral choices, which should engage the reader on an emotional, as well as intellectual level.
This, however, is where it falls down. The characters’ emotions do not come across well, not helped by the author’s tendency to change the point of view away from the main characters whenever a dilemma is faced. So we do not get to understand Clare’s feelings on being told that she must commit blackmail to secure an intelligence asset for the UK; nor Thea’s when she realises that she must become a politician’s mistress to save a friend. This makes it difficult to feel much emotional connection with the characters.
At the end of the novel, the reader is treated to a translation of the opening quote. It turns out that the author may have felt it too much of a spoiler to have in translation at the start. I found this symptomatic of the book as a whole: whilst I could glimpse a number of good ideas here, their execution let them down. As a result, this is a disappointing novel overall.