It seems that this pedometer geek has read quite a few books, both fiction and nonfiction, about World War II in the past couple years. From Tatiana de Rosnay’s Sarah’s Key to Diane Ackerman’s The Zookeeper’s Wife to The Girls of Atomic City by Denise Kiernan to Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See (to name but a few), World War II has featured prominently in the list of the books this reader has read. To this list, this pedometer geek adds the Goodreads giveaway Advanced Reader Copy of Peter Watson’s Madeleine’s War, and this is the extended review.
by Peter Watson
Published by Nan A. Talese/Doubleday, 2015
a division of Penguin Random House LLC
It is no wonder that World War II figures prominently in the settings of many books as there were basically two theaters of the war, which stretched from Europe to Japan and beyond. Nearly every country was involved in the conflict with deaths among both civilians and soldiers alike. No one remained unaffected as the war lingered on.
In Peter Watson’s Madeleine’s War, the setting is in the European theater particularly Great Britain (Scotland and England) and France. Beginning prior to D-Day, this novel blends romance, drama, and intrigue. As it says in the section called Afterwards, “Madeleine’s War is fiction: the plot and characters have been invented. But the background–the context–is real.”
The organization SC2, which is commanded by Matthew Hammond, the narrator of the story, had its real life counterpart modeled after SOE (Special Operations Executive). As the novel opens, Matthew has already served on the front lines in Europe, but has lost a lung in the process; undeterred however, he returns to England, continuing to serve his country in this new role by training resistance officers.
It is in this context that he meets and falls in love with one of his new recruits, Madeleine, a French-Canadian. As she and her other classmates training continue, they learn the ways of communication, sabotage, survival, and more. With each new day’s experiences for these recruits, the invasion by the Allied Forces draws ever closer.
Beginning with the training of this group of agents to the drop-lift of these new agents into France, Matt tells his and Madeleine’s tale of this relatively unknown organization of agents who risked death and defied the odds. They are sent to not only help the Resistance, but also to send back information for the Allied war effort all the while avoiding detection by the Nazis, who would consider them spies.
There is plenty of intrigue as the Resistance circuits are compromised, people are betrayed, and the Gestapo becomes involved. The political factions of Gaullists and communists of France all play a part in this compelling wartime story. As the book flap on the dust jacket indicates, “Drawing on true historical events, Watson delivers a tense, vivid tale of love during wartime, when the fates of men and women are caught in the sweep of history.” Overall, Madeleine’s War is a wonderful historical novel about another facet of the second World War.
This pedometer geek reader, though, had a few minor quibbles with a few of the author’s passages.
Watson doesn’t seem to be aware of how warm kilts are as evidenced by the following passage on page 57. “He (Duncan) was actually wearing his kilt today. Given the conditions, it must have been cold under all that tartan.” This reader is the wife of a man who wears a kilt, and he will attest to the fact that eight yards of wool is extremely warm; that is one of the reasons for his going regimental. Moreover, Scots have been known to use their kilts as blankets and bedrolls while living out on the Highlands.
Another little quibble is that the English generally don’t use ice in their drinks as evidenced by the following passage on page 114. “Madeleine came in with the drinks. ‘There’s no ice,’ she said. ‘But I’ve run the tonic bottle under the tap. It should be cold enough.'” I have a friend who grew up in England during the war, and although she is now an American citizen, she still doesn’t get ice in her tonic and gin. She specifically requests that the bar skip the ice. The same is true for my husband’s Scottish cousin; he couldn’t believe that ice was added to tea and fished it out when he last visited here, yet this passage indicates that the norm was to have ice, but that she settled for the water from the tap to cool the drinks.
The last tiny quibble was the description of the horse chestnut trees’ fruits as described in this passage on page 217. “The horse chestnut trees in the avenue Masson were now bearing fruit, bright shiny conkers, shiny as a Sam Browne belt. Shiny as whisky.” While horse chestnuts do have bright shiny, brown coats, they are only seen after the spiky husk of green has fallen away from the seed inside. Generally, by that time, the fruit has fallen to the pavement (thus conkers), but as the passage seems to indicate, it seems to be early in the fruit-bearing stage and thus, they would still have the green husk on them.
As this reader indicated, these are minor quibbles, and did not destroy the enjoyment of this novel. In fact, it is doubtful if others would even notice. Moreover, this reader looks forward to reading more novels by this author. In fact, two of them, The Clouds Beneath the Sun and Gifts of War, both written under his pseudonym MacKenzie Ford, look to be very intriguing.