I’m going to sound a bit bias here but I recommend ALL Simon Mawer’s books. My love of his books started with a novel I picked up a few years back called The Glass Room and continues to this day. I will only be reviewing his 2015 publication Tightrope here but please go to the library, your nearest bookshop or online, whichever is your choice and please pick up any of his works. You will not be disappointed.
Marian Sutro, a woman who faces every challenge put in front of her, with a fearlessness that is only present in a few of us. We meet Marian Sutro in Simon Mawer’s previous novel The Girl Who Fell From the Sky (Pub 2012) where Marian becomes part of the undercover world of espionage & intrigue during WW2. She spends her time working for the British alongside the French Resistance. On completion of that book, we never knew what really became of Marian Sutro…until now.
Tightrope, published in 2015 by Little, Brown is the story of what happened to Marian Sutro after the war (WW2) is over.
‘While Marian tries to rebuild her life and cast off her identity as a spy and heroine of the resistance, the memories of torture, heartbreak and betrayal won’t leave her – and nor will the longing for adventure. When her old handler tempts her back into the shadowy world of espionage, the need to serve the greater good proves hard to ignore. Drawn deep into the dark heart of Cold War politics, Marian must risk everything to protect those she loves, to serves the causes she believes in and – most of all – to follow her own desire’
The story begins almost fifty years after The Cold War in Switzerland, where Marian Sutro now resides. She receives a visitor from Sam, a son of an old friend, whom Marian has known from a very young age. Sam recalls in his mind what his parents had said about Marian – ‘She was special, strange, both courageous and dangerous, a good friend and someone you wanted to treat with caution, exciting to know but shot through with a sinuous vein of delinquency. “She’s dangerous,” my father said, in an unguarded moment. He was right in that. She was dangerous all right. I can vouch for it.’
The story takes us back to an airfield in Northolt in Middlesex. The year is 1945. The war is over & the world is finding it’s feet again. But there are many whose lives will never be the same again, whose world has seen complete upheaval & whose minds have been irrevocably changed. One of these people is Marian Sutro. She arrives back on British soil a shadow of her former self from Ravensbrook Concentration Camp in Germany. She has been tortured, imprisoned & exposed to such terrible things that she just will not & can not speak of.
There appears to be an expectation that…well..she survived didn’t she & life goes on!!! But for Marian, this proves to be impossible. She moves back in with her parents but she is continuously tormented by memories of the previous years. Memories of lives loved & lost, memories of death & betrayal, memories so difficult & haunting that she finds it very hard to settle in with her parents.
She attends all the various appointments made on her behalf & continues to go through the motions of this half-life but there’s something about her movements, the way she behaves, even her smell as Sam recalls when his sister Amanda didn’t warm to her “I don’t like her smell”. As Sam recalls though ‘that was precisely the thing that stayed in my mind. Yet now I wonder whether Amanda hadn’t unknowingly detected something, some residual stink of the camps that still emanated from Marian Sutro’s body. Maybe it was always there, a subtle hint of corruption that can both attract & repel.’
I suppose the inevitable had to happen. In a mundane life in the suburbs in a recovering world, where all the super powers were dividing the spoils, Marian was never going to lie low. She is approached by her handler from the war & Marian finds herself thrown back into the world from which she had left. She finds it very easy to slot back in as all her training comes to the fore. She leads a double/triple life wrapped up in the politics of the Cold War. I don’t think she ever really knows who she is truly working for as the lines get completely muddied. ‘In the war it had been easy. The moral boundaries were two dimensional, drawn in black and white. But now things seemed complex and diffuse, lines cross-hatched and overlapping, shapes irregular and enigmatic, drawn in shades of grey as though with a piece of charcoal. Clair-obscur.’
In her personal life, she strives to find love in many different places. She does get married but she is not the type to settle down so her marriage falters on every level. She looks for love wherever she can find it resulting in some dangerous encounters.
Marian I think always knew to a certain extent that her life was never her own anymore. She no longer seemed to care too much about her reputation among her peers. You could view her as selfish, inconsiderate. Someone who very much seemed to care about just herself. Or you could see her as a victim of the life she lead, a mere puppet to others who were continuously pulling at her strings.
In order for you to find out more can I plead with you to pick up The Girl Who Fell from the Sky (sometimes labelled Marian Sutro #1). Reading it first will position Marian in your mind and prepare you for her life after WW2.
Both books stand alone & can be read independently so I’ll leave it with you to decide.
I personally loved Marian Sutro. I would love to hear what you think so please let me know.
Til next time.