TIGHTROPE by Simon Mawer


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Mawer (Trapeze, 2012, etc.) dives into the hurricane of evil that was World War II and the Holocaust, examining the horror through Marian Sutro, an agent for Britain's Special Operations Executive whose life later becomes dezimformatsiya personified.

As part of an underground resistance operation, Marian parachuted into Nazi-occupied Europe. Soon her mission changed: get a physicist vital to atomic weapons research out of France. Then she was betrayed, captured, and sent to Ravensbrück concentration camp. The story is told through memories half a century later and is related by Sam Wareham, a family friend a decade Marian's junior who's always been enamored of the mysterious and sensual but broken woman. As the SOE is demobilized after the war, Marian is in limbo, physically debilitated, rotten with survivor’s guilt, being debriefed by desk-jockey bureaucrats, her parents hovering. Within a mood—weather, vehicles, clandestine meetings—that resonates, Mawer’s pacing is meticulous, detailed rather than slow, never frustrating or boring but rather creating an ominous atmosphere. Marian is drawn to "neither death nor life, but an existence between the two states," but soon, unknowingly, she’s lured into "the spider’s web of intrigue and betrayal" that is Cold War espionage. Marian remains war-fractured and mired in existential crisis, an "awful abyss of indifference," flitting from, or willingly seduced by, lovers with agendas. Mawer’s minor characters linger in the memory, and as with many British writers, he laces the narrative with arcane references and language—benison, anfractuous—making for a fun, intelligent read.

Very much in the vein of John le Carré—a damaged individual trapped in a complex and morally ambiguous international intrigue set on the stage of the early Cold War.

Pub Date: Nov. 3rd, 2015
ISBN: 978-1-59051-723-9
Page count: 432pp
Publisher: Other Press
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1st, 2015


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