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tightrope-simon-mawerFollowing on from the post on Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life, today I’m looking at Tightrope by Simon Mawer, another award winning historical novel (a long list of award winners can be found here.) Tightrope is “An historical thriller that brings back Marian Sutro, ex-Special Operations agent, and traces her romantic and political exploits in post-World War II London, where the Cold War is about to reshape old loyalties.” It is a sequel to Trapeze (also called The Girl Who Fell From the Sky).

Once again, I’ve looked at readers’ comments to understand the book’s appeal. Several themes emerge.

Writing style – Simon Mawer’s writing style is considered excellent

“Threading flashbacks and flash-forwards into the narrative, Mawer does a masterful job of adding dimensions of tension to the plot and emotional depth to his characters.”

I found this book to be too repetitious, rehashing a lot of what went on in the first book

“atmospheric, and realistic”

With intelligent prose and thought provoking narratives, Mawer maintains his status as one of the masterful writers of today

Simon Mawer writes beautiful, elegant prose

Mawer’s writing is rich in precise details that bring scenes to life without slowing down the pace in any way

The writing is tense and at all times believeable, bringing the shadowy world alive

Narration – several comments on confusion and disjointedness caused by the novel’s multi-character narration

The story of how she finds herself drawn back in to intelligence work in a world dominated by the shadow of the Bomb is gripping but the dual narrator technique sometimes lessens the immediacy and urgency of the new dangers she faces

It’s not always clear who the narrator is

Characters – time and again readers offer accolades for the character, Marian Sutra, that Simon Mawer has created

“… a powerful, tender, graceful and aching character study.”

“This novel is all interior life, and infinitely the stronger for it.”

“This is a marvellous spy story – complex, clever and intriguing. It is also a great character study of Marian, beautiful and adventurous but profoundly damaged by her experiences of capture, torture and internment in the war.”

“This novel remains character-driven with lovely descriptive passages and a riveting narrative.”

“I did not like the way Mawer wrote this female character. Why? Because he wrote her like a man … To put it plainly, I just don’t think that women think about drinking and sex the way Marian Sutro, the main character does.”

“Marion is an unforgettable character.”

Plot – for the most part, readers found the plot of this spry-thriller gripping

“… crackles with a quiet tension.”

“My one qualm is about the ending. Not so much the basics of what actually happened but merely the speed with which it was wrapped up.”

“Mawer’s style slips into clichés, the plotting and characterisation become predictable, to the point of caricature …”

“The writing is excellent and the plot gripping.”

“The story meandered far too much.”

“A brooding sense of danger and threat run through the book to great effect …”

Historical elements – readers feel immersed in the cold war and post-WWII Britain

“… the belt-tightening of life on rations, the chin down, bear-up of cleaning and restoring battered and bombed city streets.”

“… fascinating to read historical fiction about the infancy of the Cold War some thirty years after its limping, anti-climactic conclusion”

“Marian’s shaky reentry into postwar life is paralleled by that of her country, dealing with shortages, socialism, the feeling of being sidelined on the world stage, and the fears engendered by the imbalance of power caused by America’s invention of the atom and hydrogen bombs.”

“There is a sense of the dismal time it was with the geography of Europe changing and many wondering what they fought for and if it was worth it.”

“… beautifully captures the claustrophobia of the Cold War”

“Mawer is good on the gradual loss of certainties as the Cold War takes over from the World War II …”

“London is integral part of the story, not merely a backdrop, and through the often harsh highlighting of its defects and grey fluidity, it becomes infinitely more interesting than the vacous France and Paris of the first novel.”

“It is the tension of Cold War Europe that you feel throughout the book …”

My overall conclusion: Tightrope is an excellent thriller with superb writing and a captivating sense of history. While Tightrope stands alone, many comments encourage readers to read Trapeze, also called The Girl Who Fell From the Sky and the first Marian Sutro novel, before reading Tightrope.

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M.K. Tod writes historical fiction and blogs about all aspects of the genre at A Writer of History. Her latest novel, TIME AND REGRET was published by Lake Union on August 16, 2016. Mary’s other novels, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from Amazon, NookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.