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Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

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Manda Scott
Posts: 81
Joined: July 2010
Location: Shropshire, UK

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

Post by Manda Scott » Sun October 2nd, 2011, 9:00 am

This is the second of the two books I was sent recently that have haunted my life ever since.

Published in February 2012 by Egmont Books, this is a Young Adult novel, but definitely one that adults will read unashamedly - they won't have to bring it out in 'adult-look' covers to get people over 21 to pick it up: you'll want to anyway.

It's a WWII novel, set in Britain and France and detailing the events of two women, one in the ATA (air transport auxiliary) and one in the SOE (special operations executive - the spies who were sent into occupied territories). It's an odd first/third person narrative, but it works. It's told from the perspective of the SOE girl - her name's Julie, tho' we don't learn that until very late - who has been captured by the Gestapo in France and, after 3 weeks of torture, has agreed to write down her experience - the story of how she got here. And so she has to start with Maddie, the girl who flew her here and who's plane crashed on entry and who might be dead. (that's not why she was caught -she was picked up because she looked the wrong way crossing the road, which is apparently a real-life incident).

So our 'proper little Judas' tells Maddie's story, from the start in a Yorkshire mining village where her future is to marry or to end up in the local factory. Maddie is brought up by her doting grandparents and her grandfather runs the motor-bike shop. So she gets a motorbike for her birthday and ends up at the local airfield, helping out as a mechanic. She learns to fly and in due course, after a spell in the WAAF, ends up in the ATA. Along the way, she meets 'Queenie', the upper-class girl whose parents own a castle in Scotland and whose friends all have double-barrelled names. They fall in friends. Actually, they fall in love, but this is a childrens' novel, so there's no consummation, just that absorbing absolute intensity of passion, made all the more poignant because this is the kind of cross-class friendship that would have been impossible in all regards had there not been a war on. Queenie is fluent in French and German and so ends up in the SOE. And in France, where her incaceration and torture are detailed, bit by ghastly bit as she writes. Topping and tailing each story of Maddie are 'conversations' in prose with her captors, particularly Engel, the female guard (who sharpens pen nibs on her teeth and then shows her how the nurses at her school used to use them to take blood samples - and who also tells her that the favourite method of killing recalcitrant prisoners is to force a gallon of petrol down their throats and then hold a lighted match to their lips. I don't believe that one - captor would in the resultant fire ball as well, but it's an incredibly scary thought) - and the Hauptsturmfuhrer who terrifies all of them and who is driving the narrative forward to Queenie's eventual death. She will be shot when she has finished. She knows this.

Gradually, the two stories converge and the layers begin to peel off, the twists to turn and the reality beneath the lies to appear until we reach an ending that, looking back, has been foreshadowed all along - and one that left me dreaming of it for nights afterwards, trying to make just one thing different.

Told in language for children, this is nevertheless an entirely gripping novel, of a similar order to The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas. Simple, straightforward, but endlessly looping, it glosses over the bigger holes (A Gestapo officer would surely want to know more of Queenie's training and less of the flying details?) so they are only apparent in retrospect. The author is a pilot herself, and the love of planes shines through, as does the period detail. I'm planning to give it to the elderly couple across the road who lived through the war and find out if it rings true - I'm pretty sure it will.

The ending was sufficiently open that I think there will be a sequel - that'll be one of the books to watch out for in 2013. This, meanwhile, is one to buy in early 2012, when it's snowing and you want to lose yourself for a while in passionate writing with an utterly compelling story.


Bestselling author of
Boudica: Dreaming. INTO THE FIRE out in June 2015: Forget what you thought you knew, this changes everything.


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