A WWII novel from the author of Life After Life and A God in Ruins. Juliet Armstrong is 18 years old and all alone in the world when she’s recruited by MI5. Her job is transcribing meetings of British citizens sympathetic to the Nazi cause. Soon, she’s pulled even deeper into the world of espionage, a world she will ultimately discover is hard to escape.
Often, when writers attempt to tell two related but different stories, the reader picks a favorite and loses interest in the other. That’s never the case here. Atkinson is a masterful narrative strategist, linking her two stories by the appearance in Juliet’s postwar world of figures from her MI5 days and the suggestion that she is now at risk for what happened then ... And, as all of Atkinson’s readers know, she is an exquisite writer of prose, using language with startling precision whether she is plumbing an inner life, describing events of appalling violence, or displaying her characters’ wonderfully acerbic wit. Evoking such different but equally memorable works as Graham Greene’s The Human Factor (1978) and Margaret Drabble’s The Middle Ground (1980), this is a wonderful novel about making choices, failing to make them, and living, with some degree of grace, the lives our choices determine for us.
Just as Atkinson's Jackson Brodie novels borrow from mystery but exist in a category apart from that genre, her latest is a sort of demystified thriller. There is intrigue. There are surprises. But the unknowns aren’t always what we think they are. The deepest pleasure here, though, is the author’s language. As ever, Atkinson is sharp, precise, and funny. She might be the best Anglophone author working when it comes to adverbs ... Another beautifully crafted book from an author of great intelligence and empathy.
Atkinson’s suspenseful novel is enlivened by its heroine’s witty, sardonic voice as she is transformed from an innocent, unsophisticated young woman into a spy for Britain’s MI5 during WWI ... If Atkinson initially challenges credibility because Juliet slides too quickly from being a naive 18-year-old into a clever escape artist and cool conspirator, her transition into idealistic patriot and then ultimately jaded pawn in the espionage world is altogether believable ... The book ends on an uncertain note for Juliet, a poignant denouement for this transportive, wholly realized historical novel.