As Allied forces close in on Berlin in spring 1945, a solitary figure emerges from the wreckage that is Germany. It is Marian Sutro, whose existence was last known to her British controllers in autumn 1943 in Paris. One of a handful of surviving agents of the Special Operations Executive, she has withstood arrest, interrogation, incarceration, and the horrors of Ravensbrück concentration camp, but at what cost? Returned to an England she barely knows and a postwar world she doesn’t understand, Marian searches for something on which to ground the rest of her life. Family and friends surround her, but she is haunted by her experiences and by the guilt of knowing that her contribution to the war effort helped lead to the monstrosities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. When the mysterious Major Fawley, the man who hijacked her wartime mission to Paris, emerges from the shadows to draw her into the ambiguities and uncertainties of the Cold War, she sees a way to make amends for the past and at the same time to find the identity that has never been hers.
A novel of divided loyalties and mixed motives, Tightrope is the complex and enigmatic story of a woman whose search for personal identity and fulfillment leads her to shocking choices. (Summary and pic from goodreads.com)
I was given a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
My Review: I’ve been pondering for awhile now what it is about this book. By all accounts, I should love it. I’m totally loving historical fiction right now, I’ve read some great WWII historical fiction books that I’ve loved (see my reviews for The Nightingale and Rose Under Fire if you’re looking for some excellent WWII historical fic). And yet…I dunno. The summary of this book should, for all intents and purposes, be totally my kind of thing. The main character is a strong female—and a spy, nonetheless—and I totally love cool female characters, especially at a historical period when they weren’t expected to be so. So I thought and thought and thought, and I think what the deal is is this—I did not like the way Mawer wrote this female character. Why? Because he wrote her like a man.
Now, let’s be fair here. I have read many male authors who I think have captured beautifully what women are like—how they think, how they act, their motivations, etc. Some series that I love where I think the authors did this remarkably are the Flavia de Luce series by Alan Bradley and The Ladies’ No. 1 Detective Agency series by Alexander McCall Smith. Flavia de Luce is one of those series where I am always surprised how well a man is able to capture a woman—a girl, really, because Flav is only 11 when it starts. He gets her, he gets what she’s about, and I just love Flav. She’s real, she’s funny, she’s flawed, and she is just so precocious! Mma Ramotswe from The Ladies’ No. 1 Detective Agency is also a well-written female character, but in a completely different way. She’s elegant and wise, and so alive that I feel like I know her. There are many, many others, as I’m sure you’ve read, but these are just a few that came to mind.
I could see where Mawer was trying to create a woman who was strong and cool and also dangerous and risqué, but I feel like he did it in ways that a man would be strong and cool and dangerous and risqué. To put it plainly, I just don’t think that women think about drinking and sex the way Marian Sutro, the main character does. I also do not think that most women engage in what I consider to be pedophilia in this book. I know that not all women think the same, and obviously there are outliers, but even with those women I feel that there is a difference between them and Marian Sutro. It’s subtle and possibly unidentifiable to a male author, but Marian Sutro, in my opinion, is written like a man.
After coming to this conclusion, I considered that maybe he had created a male-like character as a female to make it that much more shocking, but I don’t think that’s so. One character who is completely awesome is Lisbeth Salander from The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series. She’s edgy, she’s raw, and although she doesn’t act with drinking and sex like Marian Sutro does, she is an atypical female character created by a man who is completely awesome. I related to Lisbeth Salander and even though I’m not like her, I can fully admit that she’s pretty much one of the coolest female characters written. (Side note—do not go read these books without knowing what you’re getting into. They’re rated R, at least, for language and sexual violence.)
The story of Tightrope itself was decent and interesting. That’s pretty much what kept me going. I liked it more as it went on. However, my main complaint really is that the female character—the main character—was not relatable as a woman, and therefore I found this book really difficult to enjoy as fully as I could have.
My Rating: 3 Stars
For the sensitive reader: There is language, sex, and WWII torture violence in this book. It is more than some I’ve read from the genre. I would rate it PG-13.