This comes from Psalm 126. Some may think this oddly inappropriate? But here goes…
Simon Mawer has followed up his Second World War Resistance novel, with a new book about the same woman. In The Girl Who Fell from the Sky we follow the wartime exploits Marian Sutro, part English and part French who is recruited to the SOE, though most of the time she seems too naive to have worked that out. She has some well trodden fictional paths to follow and one extremely unusual one, she is recruited by a rival secret operation to persuade a one-time friend to leave France and come to England.
It is this adventure that makes this an interesting novel. The Resistance work, the drop over France, the clandestine meetings and messages are covered elsewhere, not better probably but more of the same. Marian’s other adventure and her time in Paris doing it, is both more exciting, more edge of the seat and slightly less likely, but nevertheless gripping stuff.
As with all his books, Simon Mawer keeps his hand well hidden and the gradual reveal is all the more telling with the final shocking denouement. The Girl Who Fell from the Sky does not match his previous hauntingly beautiful book The Glass Room about an architect’s dream project in Germany and the people who lived there, but it is a page turner.
The new novel, Tightrope, reaches another level all together. Once again, Marian Sutro is our heroine, this is her life after the war. She is trying to settle down, she is trying to forget and she has drifted into an unsuitable marriage. Unsuitable because she is much cleverer than her husband, she married on the rebound and anyway life in peacetime simply is not as vivid, nerve-stretching or interesting as her time in the front line. How could it be? In a book like this? Very interesting indeed.
These are both very unusual novels, but exploring the life after seems to be a richer seam, partly because it is a road less travelled – though one that is being travelled more and more frequently by others, Kate Atkinson for example, but also Sebastian Faulks.
The heroine of this book, Rachel Caine, is also recruited, this time by a wealthy landowning aristocrat, Earl of Annerdale, with a plan. He wants, as one of his playthings, a pair of wolves and as she has worked on an American reservation protecting wolves there, she seems the best target for his operation.
At first reluctant, Rachel then finds herself in an awkward situation and so opts out of the wild wolf project to start a captivity project for a pair of Grey Wolves, to be imported according to all the strictest laws and restrictions. from Europe. This beautiful pair, who will live, she supposes, on the Earl’s estate (which seems limitless) in a magnificently, expensively constructed enclosure with every modern security system available. are an experiment in controlled reintroduction .
Apart from some serious animal rights protest, some anxious neighbours and some angry farmers, what could possibly go wrong? The Earl is boundless in his enthusiasm, then seems to lose interest; his daughter uses this as her gap year project, about which Rachel has serious misgivings, but is won over; apart from one break in, luckily before the pair are released from their quarantine enclosure, everything goes like clockwork.
The pair are released after being carefully monitored and having GPS chips inserted under their coats. A wild-life photographer sets up his hides and all is set. Wonderfully, the pair like each other and in the absence of any alpha-females, they breed successfully in the first spring, producing four beautiful wolf-cubs…Rachel, who has also been breeding, could not be happier.
This all sounds very fanciful. Actually, it is as much about family life as about the wild. The manifest tensions around sibling rivalry and how it can be resolved, its causes and the lasting damage. Rachel has been away for years, estranged from her rackety mother and distant from her brother, returning to England she is able to resolve some of these issues. The Earl. too, has parental problems resulting from an accident in a plane which caused the death of his wife. This does not seem to have prevented him from flying, however but has caused near-permanent estrangement from his son, who will eventually inherit, though the daughter seems to care more about the land and its attendant responsibilities.
Sarah Hall has a good eye for landscape and she is in familiar territory here as most of the action takes place in and around the Lake District. Previous books have been selected by the Man Booker judges for the Shortlist, but she has yet to win.