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gertrude

April 2018

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reading

The Spy Game




Yesterday morning I had an email from the library telling me my requested book was waiting. I rushed down to get it and finished it the same day. This was The Spy Game by Georgina Harding. At last, something to read! Tell me a story! I was fascinated from the start, as I’d expected to be. Anna's and Peter’s mother drives away on a foggy day in 1961. They never see her again. Two days earlier the Portland Spy Ring has been rounded up. As was common then, the children are told nothing about their mother’s death, leaving an opening for fantasy: 'Peter, who was so clever but did not know where you divided stories from reality.'

Peter’s fantasy is that their German mother is not dead but a spy and his theories lead to unhappiness for all. In the end it is not Peter but Anna, after their father’s death, who tries to find out more about their mother’s early life. The book is beautifully written, the sixties period feel exactly right. (Odd that this era of fog, Cold War, black and white, should now have a strange glamour about it.) It also touches on the problems of displacement in post-war Europe with great economy. By the end of the story doubts remain, in Anna’s mind and the reader’s. Is the truth better known, or not? What is identity? Can people reinvent themselves and if so, who are they then? I absolutely loved this book and recommend it highly. Just as well, because I’d had three reading failures on the trot.

My library pile has been sadly disappointing. I gave up after two chapters of Poppyland*L by Raffaella Barker, bored silly waiting for something to happen. I don’t like the style she’s adopted for this book and sadly, nothing of hers that I’ve read has been so utterly charming as Summertime. I turned instead to Daddy's Gone A'Hunting by Penelope Mortimer. Years ago, I read The Pumpkin Eater. I thought it was good but was far too young to empathise at all with the heroine, overburdened with children. DGAH, a Persephone publication, is about yet another miserable woman and I soon found it so depressing I gave up on that, too. I’m wondering if Persephone is the bookish equivalent of BBC Radio4: having a mission to depress. My third attempt was at The Sea Lady by Margaret Drabble. When I was younger I read all her books as they came out, then somehow stopped; I can’t remember where the turn-off came. I still love and would recommend Jerusalem the Golden, which won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize in 1967. Sadly, this recent novel had absolutely no charms for me; dull people, turgid prose and like so much modern fiction, obviously full of specially mugged up research into an arcane subject. You won’t make much sense of it if you haven’t read L P Hartley, either. So, three unfinished books in a row.



I wish someone would reissue this. The pages of my copy are almost too brown to read.

Comments

(Anonymous)

I've put The Spy Game in my Book Depository basket - 201 days till the paperback comes out! You know, I can visit lots of blogs and be interested in a book but when I come here I read about books I *must* buy.
I think we 'talked' about Raffaela before - about perhaps because her life has changed, her book topics and the feeling about her books has also changed. And you know, it's a coincidence because I think this is true of Margaret D. too. I also read all her books when I was a bit younger than the age she was when she wrote them, but then I couldn't stand them anymore. Her topics changed to more broad societal from personal, I think. A few years back I tried to read some of the early ones again, and found them so dated I couldn't do it. And, I agree with you about Persephone. Happily for me there are cheery books too (Greenery Street, Miss Pettigrew, and A Fortnight in September which I haven't read yet, but I think is a happy book) but for the most part I feel the same - unhappy people and unhappy endings. I saw the movie of The Pumpkin Eater and was so thrilled because one of the actresses had been in Family at War, a series Tom and I were devoted to: Leslie Nunnerly. I don't think Penelope M (Penelope the first I believe John called her since there is also a P the second) was a very happy woman.
Such a long comment, but honestly I feel so similar to you in book taste that when you recommend something, I'm quite sure I'll love it. Thanks for all your reviews.
Oh, the responsibilty! I do think you'd like it.
The Raffaella was a disappointment but you can't blame an author for not wanting to write the same book over and over again as we the public might wish. It's interesting you should have had the same experience as me with Margaret Drabble's books, perhaps it's our age:-)
Gross exaggeration about Persephone, of course, but one's heart does sink a little when yet another Introduction tells you how awful life was for women blah blah. I read Penelope Mortimer's autobiographical books some time ago; she was mad on gardening but, as you say, still not happy.

I've enjoyed books recommended by you, so it works both ways!
I also got that from the library and loved it. I'm dithering about my holiday reads though! Nothing is really grabbing me right now.
It's so good, isn't it? And her second novel, I believe.
How about something pink for a change? Any Miss Silvers you haven't read?
No none at all I'm afraid, but would be quite happy to re-read so a good idea!
Thank you for the recommendation and non-recommendations! The Spy Game sounds my type of thing.