Tuesday, May 08, 2012

For My Review

So I have this copy of Elizabeth Wein's Code Name Verity that I got for review.  It's being read by all the bloggers right now, so I'm not ahead of the curve or anything, but it's also really, really wonderful, so I'm excited to get to be part of the chorus.

I'm afraid I'm intimidated by others' reviews, but I've been putting off writing this post because I really just want to keep reading the book all the time.  I sat down to write about it right around the halfway point, at which point I was enthralled.  I actually wrote the sentence, "But everyone says that something mind-blowing is about to happen."  And then I kept reading and my mind was blown, and I haven't put it down.

You know, mind-blowing isn't really the right description--it's misleading you into thinking that no, you're not really in World War II France, you're in a mental hospital on the moon and dude, it's all imaginary!  But no, the story is very much grounded in its time and place, and it's frantic and dreamy with the energy and strangeness of a world at war.

In this world, a shopkeeper's daughter whose grandfather taught her to love engines might become best friends with a sophisticated daughter of a noble Scottish house, whose name is shared by royalty.  These women might train together and find their completely opposing natures to be complementary, and be able to bolster each other up when the war is hard on each of them.  A girl might become a pilot, an aristocrat a spy, and those language classes you took in college might actually come in handy.

Our narrator has been captured by the Nazis, and she has been tortured into writing a confession.  She writes the story of a young woman named Maggie and her piloting career with the British Air Force, relating all the details she can remember of her childhood, training, and meeting her unlikely aristocratic best friend.  The fear and horror of a Nazi prison are fenced out by happy memories of the two of them becoming friends during wartime.

And then, as everyone says, there is a shift in the middle of the book.  Instead of the prisoner's first person account, we have a different viewpoint, and a whole new set of information that changes, elaborates on, and even rewrites the first part.  It's a completely separate story, and yet the same story, and yet a complementary story that weaves together a better picture of the truth than either of the narratives could have given.

And that's all I'll say about that.  What's amazing, though, is that no matter how thrilling the spy story is--and let me tell you, it's pretty thrilling--what's just knocking me over is the friendship between these two women.  Again, I'm not the first to make this observation, but the emotional detail that shines through in this book is just astounding.  There's no elaborate telling, no gushing rhapsodies about how much the two love each other.  They just DO--they're each in their role, playing their part, but they support each other and need each other and love each other in a million small ways that add up so quickly.

The "opposites attract" friendship is pretty common in literature--and in real life, I suppose.  The plain one and the pretty one, the smart one and the funny one, the serious one and the loud one.  But there are no stereotypes like this for Maddie and her friend.  They complement each other in absolutely essential ways--experts at people and machines, composure and sincerity, simplicity and complexity, thought and emotion.  But they trade off--is Maddie the emotional one, or the clear thinker?  Is she deceptively simple, or elusively complex?  Like real people, they can't be pinned down, but they play off each other in the most interesting, thoughtful ways.

I'm over-intellectualizing this experience, though.  Really, this is about reading the book and oh my god, what happens next?!  I do caution you, one of my pet peeves makes a minor appearance, which is a novel that is written in the form of a letter or someone's actual writing, but reads very much like a literary novel.  That bothered me for about five pages, before I came to understand the character who was doing the writing.  After that, it was a breezy pleasure to follow her on her elliptical story through wartime England.

I suppose the Nazi commandant felt the same way. And how often do you say that about your reaction to something?  I'm loving this book--you really should read it.

(Note: I was provided with a complementary copy of the book for review.)


Ana S. said...

I completely understand the feeling of being intimidated by other reviews, but for what it's worth I think you did an amazing job of explaining what's so special about this novel. So glad you're loving it as much as I did.

LibraryHungry said...

Thank you! And oh, gracious, I finished it this morning, and I'm absolutely ruined for any other books. I couldn't read on the bus because the end just left me gasping.

I would LOVE to sit down with the author and hear about all her research. Her afterword alone is so interesting. I can't wait to see what she does next.

Linden said...

My library doesn't have this one! Has it been released yet?

Linden said...

Forget it, I see that the release date is May 15... I guess I can wait until then! :)

Aarti said...

Oh, I'm glad you reviewed this book! If it makes you feel good, I actually haven't read any of the other reviews, but I read yours :-) I admit that I am pretty tired of the WWII trope that seems to have become HUGE in literature these days. I feel like EVERYONE is writing about the period. But this seems like it's a fresh approach.

LibraryHungry said...

I completely agree. I had a long conversation with a bunch of people about subjects that we've read so much literary fiction about that we can't even pick up any more, and WWII was the top of the list. But somehow this one didn't get too bogged down in it.