By: William Boyd
“I am Eva Delectorskaya,” Sally Gilmartin announces, and so on a warm summer afternoon in 1976 her daughter, Ruth, learns that everything she ever knew about her mother was a carefully constructed lie. Sally Gilmartin is a respectable English widow living in picturesque Cotswold village; Eva Delectorskaya was a rigorously trained World War II spy, a woman who carried fake passports and retreated to secret safe houses, a woman taught to lie and deceive, and above all, to never trust anyone.
Three decades later the secrets of Sally’s past still haunt her. Someone is trying to kill her and at last she has decided to trust Ruth with her story. Ruth, meanwhile, is struggling to make sense of her own life as a young single mother with an unfinished graduate degree and escalating dependence on alcohol. She is drawn deeper and deeper into the astonishing events of her mother’s past—the mysterious death of Eva’s beloved brother, her work in New York City manipulating the press in order to shift public sentiment toward American involvement in the war, her dangerous romantic entanglement. Now Sally wants to find the man who recruited her for the secret service, and she needs Ruth’s help.
This book caught my attention ever since I heard that an adaptation was made starring Hayley Atwell and Michelle Dockery. This novel sounded interesting with a lot of elements that I’m interested in in a novel: Russian emigres, espionage, World War Two setting, covert affairs and secret identities. May contain some spoilers ahead!
The narrative choice for this novel is an interesting one: there’s the story of Eva Delectorskaya taking place in the early years of the Second World War and the story of Sally, Ruth and the “present” day in the late 1970s. The chapter headings helped immensely because at one point, I was a little confused for some reason as to who was narrating–then I remembered that Ruth’s story is being told in first person whereas Eva’s story was in third period.
The story itself is an interesting one as the reader follows Eva as she trains to be a spy for the British government. It may seem rather quiet and slow at times but then one has to remember that a lot of the time, the act of espionage is a slow business. There are close calls here and there and a few dangerous moments but a lot of the time Eva is just observing, taking note, making connections, following along. Her story really hits astride around 1940 and she is actively working within a unit and a mystery–and how it connects to the present day–really starts falling into place.
The contemporary story taking place in the 1970s was not as interesting as the World War Two story but it was still interesting to see how Ruth reacts to Sally’s revelations. It was also interesting to follow her story because she was a single mother living in the 1970s and reading glimpses of who she is beyond that. While the World War Two end of the story raised the mystery as to what happened to Eva, its resolution in this half of the story felt rather muted, a bit of a letdown considering how bad the situation had gotten then. I expected the confrontation scene to be a bit more charged than it was.
Despite of that, Restless was an interesting novel to read. While not as quick-paced as some of the more contemporary spy novels, it was interesting to read a World War Two spy novel with a lead female character for a change.