2019 marks the 75th anniversary of D-Day and, after the commemorations for WW1 and the ANZACs that have been occurring around the country from 2014-2018, I think I was primed to notice this historical novel that delves into both WWI and the aftermath of WWII. I had not read anything of Kate Quinn’s before and will definitely be searching out her other novels after thoroughly enjoying this one.
The other attraction to this story for me is that it is mostly set in France and discusses the role of the French in both World Wars as an occupied country. I had previously read The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah and since reading it have recommend to everyone as it is also about occupied France in the second World War and the trials and bravery of women left alone in France at the time. So I was expecting something similar and while The Alice Network is a story about the often untold bravery of women it is also about very clever women who wanted to do more, be more and achieve more than being a wife and mother, regardless of the times.
The story is told through two women’s narratives. One is Charlie St. Clair, a brainy American 20 year old who has an affinity for maths and for getting herself into trouble as she is pregnant. Her parents are taking her to Sweden to deal with the ‘little problem’ in 1949 but Charlie has other ideas. She lost her brother to what we would call PTSD today after the war and she is determined to find her French cousin Rose. She has one clue and one unknown London contact she wants to follow up – Eve Gardiner, who turns out to be a raging alcoholic and cantankerous ex First World War spy, part of The Alice Network. The one clue, a name, is one Eve knows and she has her own reasons for agreeing to find out if Rose is living or dead. We also then go back to 1915 and learn how Eve became a spy and exactly what happened to The Alice Network in German occupied France.
I really enjoy multilayered time lines in storytelling, with a mystery running through both narratives and this was even more interesting as it is based on the true story of the covert Alice Network and Lili, in the novel the chief handler of the group, is based on a real woman Louise de Bettignies.
There are tragedies, horror and heartache, because this is a book about two wars, but there are also triumphs and a sense of coming through a tunnel of despair to a sense of hope and a new beginning which give this story depth and emotional involvement for the reader. Well worth your time and is available in audio and book form.
The Alice Network (downloadable audiobook)