And then she made her move. It felt like walking a tightrope, feeling the balance, knowing that a slight shift to either side might be fatal.

Marian Sutro returns to the page. The last time we saw her was in Simon Mawer’s The Girl Who Fell From The Sky. This time it is in his Tightrope. A spy story, a thriller for a change. Nothing special. A time out, so to speak.

We begin with Marian’s work for the Britain’s Special Operations Forces in World War II. She is parachuted into France, joins the resistance, her task to make contact with Clement Pelletier, a nuclear physicist and help smuggle him out of the country. She succeeds, but soon thereafter is betrayed, captured by the Nazis, after killing two SS officers.

She is tortured and sent to a German concentration camp—Ravensbruck—assumes the name of recently deceased prisoner, escapes and eventually finds her way back to England.

“You cannot tell anyone what it [Ravensbruck] was like. It wasn’t the stuff of words.”

She returns to the home of her parents where she is overly pampered, fed, treated like a child. All the while, she longs for the excitement of her life as an agent and heroine of the resistance. When her former handler temps her back into the Cold War world of espionage, she accepts at once.

At this point Marian Sutro begins a new life. We are introduced to her brother and his work as a nuclear scientist, and others who believed the West should share their knowledge with the Russians.

Once again she is drawn back in to the world of deception, double-crossing, struggle to protect her gay brother. Along the way there are various affairs, close escapes, and clandestine acts. An all pervading atmosphere of mistrust, uncertainty. And Mawer writes elegant prose, as if he knew exactly what the world of espionage was like.

“It is so very difficult to unpick the spider’s web of intrigue and betrayal, isn’t it? Some threads are irrevocably knotted together, others snap at the merest breath of inquiry.”

What makes Tightrope such a pleasure is the character of Marion Sutro, her response to the morally complex world in which she found herself, damaged in World War II, yet resilient, clever, calm, subject to great physical passions, able to hold her own at the slightest danger.

To live happily, live hidden. She’d heard the proverb years ago during her training but she’d only recently found the source…Florian’s fables…It comes in the Fable of the Cricket who survives intact while the pretty butterfly dies at the hands of children. She was like the cricket—cryptic, camouflaged, concealed. A survivor.”

In the end Marion never knew if what she had done made the slightest difference. I suppose that is the way with the clandestine world, probably the world in general.


Linda said...

What a coincidence!! I've never ready anything by Simon Mawer, but was aware that he writes historical fiction - which I love if it's done right. But in preparation for my drive across the state of Missouri for Thanksgiving in St. Louis, I downloaded the audiobook "Trapeze" by Mawer through my library. I was looking for something to get me through the drive. As you probably know, Trapeze introduces the character of Marian Sutro (I think that's the first book she appears in). I listened to it for some time with interest, but thought to myself that I would really rather be reading it, especially as French phrases are sprinkled heavily throughout and I can understand French better reading it than listening to it.

I like Marian also, and I like Mawer's writing. I will finish (read) Trapeze and then read Tightrope.

Richard Katzev said...

Hi Linda: Yes, a coincidence. I think you're right: Marian Sutro first appears in Trapeze and would probably interest me more than Tightrope because, if I'm correct she joins the Resistance in than novel. Anything on the French Resistance is bound to appeal to me. Let me know what you think of Trapeze. Tightrope was just something a little different at year's end. I suspect I won't read Trapeze, although it's getting harder and harder to find a fine novel these days. Surely one or both will be made into a movie.

Linda said...

Yes, you are right - Marian joins the Resistance in Trapeze. In the audio book, I am at the point where she begins training in Scotland. I like what I've listened to so far, but I really don't like "listening" to a book, so I will start this over as a Kindle book.

I am in search of a fine novel as well - it seems they are becoming harder and harder to find - why is that? Have we changed as readers or are fine novels just not being written these days? I don't know.

Richard Katzev said...

Fine novels are still being written. In the past couple of years, I've read and blogged about quite a few. But they do appear infrequently and I'm sure it is and was always like that.

I've never listened to an audio-book--it's impossible or make marks in the margin and nearly impossible to make notes.

cath said...

As I've read The Girl Who Fell From the Sky, as well as The Glass Room and The Fall by Simon Mawer and liked all three of them, Tightrope will follow soon. I thought Marian Sutro was a really interesting protagonist.

Richard Katzev said...

I agree, she's a most interesting person. I want to read more about her work in the French Resistance. There's a brief recap in The Tightrope, but not the complete story as I imagine there is in The Girl Who Fell from the Sky. I'm going to consider reading that too.