Author: Simon Mawer, 2012.
Genre: Period Fiction. England/France 1940s. Spy Fiction. War.
Other Details: Paperback. 368 pages.
Marian Sutro is an outsider: the daughter of a diplomat, brought up on the shores of Lake Geneva and in England, half French, half British, naive yet too clever for her own good. But when she is recruited from her desk job by SOE to go undercover in wartime France, it seems her hybrid status - and fluent French - will be of service to a greater, more dangerous cause.
Trained in sabotage, dead-drops, how to perform under interrogation and how to kill, Marian parachutes into south-west France, her official mission to act as a Resistance courier. But her real destination is Paris, where she must seek out family friend Clement Pelletier, once the focus of her adolescent desires. A nuclear physicist engaged in the race for a new and terrifying weapon, he is of urgent significance to her superiors. As she struggles through the strange, lethal landscape of the Occupation towards this reunion, what completes her training is the understanding that war changes everything, and neither love nor fatherland may be trusted - synopsis from UK publisher's website.
There was already a novel with this title by Heidi W. Durrow published in US and so to avoid confusion this was published there as Trapeze. The novel was written as a tribute to the 39 women of the Special Operations Executive who risked their lives during WWII to enter France as undercover operatives during the German occupation.
The novel opens with Marian preparing for her parachute drop into France and then loops back to describe her recruitment and training before continuing on with her mission in France. I found myself gripped from this opening through to its final page. It was dangerous work, often unglamorous and at times I found Marian an unsympathetic protagonist. I had to remind myself that she was only 20 years old and in many ways quite out of her depth in this situation. This was illustrated by Marian often comparing her experiences to those of Alice in Wonderland (and Through the Looking Glass) and she even takes Alice as an alias for a time during her mission. Yet even though she makes this association with the stories of her childhood the sense of real danger is ever present.
I found it a highly compelling story though wish the publishers had dropped the review quote on the cover that called it "as good as le Carre". I found it more akin to William Boyd's 'Restless', an association that was helped by both novels using a woman in a red coat on the cover.
'The Girl Who Fell From the Sky'/'Trapeze' - contains detailed synopsis, sample chapter and interviews about novel.