Book Recommendation: Trapeze by Simon Mawer
World War II is well underway. The French are hurting; cities are for the first time in worse shape than the country and former staples like coffee and sugar have become luxuries. No one--no one--is spared suspicion. Simon Mawer's latest novel, Trapeze, follows Marian Sutro, a young woman raised in Switzerland now residing in England. Bored and languishing in a job somehow tangentially related to the war effort, Marian is recruited by a mysterious organization to be embedded as a spy in France.
This is a story that starts fast, with Marian zooming over the French countryside preparing to parachute into uncharted darkness. From there, it reverts to a flashback, the suspense building until we reach that scene again and swoop past into a tangled web of secrets and spies. The whole thing centers on balance, on the way Marian juggles identities and alibis, relationships and persons. As Marian teeters on the edge exposure at any moment, her perseverance, bravery and drive hold her afloat. Despite the danger below, Marian clings to her proverbial trapeze, balancing fear with bravado in her desperate need for purpose as war wages on around her.
Swirling beneath the surface is an inner conflict between past and present. Does Marian still love Clement, the older man she desired as a teenager, or has she moved on to the insatiable Benoit, her spying partner and doting admirer? Fluent in English and French, she struggles to decide which defines her more, a confusion that only deepens as she adopts new identities in her travels.
This story held my attention rapt over the few days I took to read it. Between readings, I was thinking about Marian, her adventures and her struggles. Whenever I had a few minutes, I would sneak in a couple of pages, just to get more of the story. This was one of those books that I know I'll come back to, both because it is mysterious, exciting and seductive, but also because its protagonist is so damn admirable. A woman in a time of men, Marian stands up to claim her place as a soldier and a spy, using her wit, intelligence, pluck and, yes, sexuality, to accomplish what many others could not.
Trapeze spoke to me, and I attribute that to the strength of Marian's character. How else can I explain why I felt anguish at her pain and joy for her successes? Sad as it is that this book had to end, I look forward to the next time I read it. I hope by then I'll have accomplished something half as brave as Marian Sutro.
Intrigued? Try the classic scones with French vanilla glaze inspired by Trapeze.
Source: I picked Trapeze up at my local public library.