William Boyd, Restless (2006)

What a page turner! I literally could not leave it for the whole weekend (despite my chock-full program, kids theatre, gifts for dads, Betty Crocker cookies…), until the last page was finished yesterday past 10pm. TV series and other books paled in comparison and even fresh pancakes with Earl grey tea for breakfast were not as appealing as learning how the cracking adventures of this espionage thriller would turn out.

It is mid-1970s and Ruth Gilmartin is a single mother teaching ESL to foreigners in Oxford while trying unconvincingly to finish her thesis. Her ageing mother Sally lives in a Cotswolds cottage (! I love it when a good novel embarks me in a place I have visited!) and her main characteristics seem to love cutting her lawn with shears. But this oddity is not the only thing about her: she is actually born Eva Delektorskaya, a White Russian recruited by British intelligence in Paris in 1939. Eva has decided that now is the right time to tell the truth to her daughter, enlisting her for a last mission.

Alternating chapters of Ruth’ life told with the first person and the story of her mother, we get to witness two eras described in very atmospheric renditions: I enjoyed Ruth’s concerns about contemporary events of Iranian revolution and Baader-Meinhof RAF trial, but of course, this is WWII espionage scene that steals the show. Eva from 1939 worked for a semi-independent team of spies inside the BSC (British Security Co-ordination), an organization based in the US. BSC was specialized in manipulating news services in order to influence the US into entering the European conflict.

Eva is the glamorous, efficient, ever-suspicious spy who has been trained to evade followers and to check for snares even in a friend’s home (the chapter of her training is the best, in my opinion). She couldn’t be further away from Sally Gilmartin, and yet she is, and has more or less always be playing a role, always been on the run and afraid that someday, someone would catch her up with her past.

I remember noticing the novel when it came out and I was reminded of it a few months ago by Danielle’s list of spy novels: the book is as efficient in entertaining the reader as Eva is in shaking off her opponents. It’s not as dark and bitter as a Le Carré classics, but it’s well worth a weekend of reading!

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8 thoughts on “William Boyd, Restless (2006)

  1. William Boyd is such a pro. Everything he touches turns to gold, not least Restless. I thought his two female voices were superb, as was the rising tension. Glad you enjoyed it too.

  2. My husband just finished his most recent book — Ordinary Thunderstorms — and I could tell by the intent look on his face, and how late he got to bed, that it’s pretty great. I’m looking forward to reading it soon!

  3. If only I could read the books as fast as I add them to my lists! 🙂 I’ve been wanting to read this and get back to my spy novels (am just starting a Helen MacInnes novel–Decision at Delphi). I have his newer book, too. I shall be bumping it back up the pile now–am in a mood for can’t put down sorts of stories!

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