William Boyd Restless (2006)
She grabbed the sharp pencil in her hair and stabbed him in the left eye. The pencil went in smoothly and instantly without resistance, almost to its full six-inch length. The man gave a kind of gasp-inhalation and dropped his gun with a clatter. He tried to raise his trembling hands to his eye as if to draw the pencil out then fell back against the door. The end of the pencil with the rubber eraser stuck out an inch above the punctured jelly of his left eyeball. There was no blood. She knew immediately from his absolute stillness that he was dead.
I enjoyed this book. I would have enjoyed it even more if my Kindle edition had not been littered with typographic nasties. I don't mind a few slips in an e-book when it is free, but this was a 'real' edition, purchased and all, and it looked rather like the publisher had got a chimp to scan in the page proofs and upload it as quickly as possible. Maybe the chimp was meant to proof-read it. Maybe not. NOT GOOD ENOUGH, BLOOMSBURY! Missing fullstops. Strange apostrophes. Wacky hyphenation. 'W' becoming 'v/' (forv/ard). And forget about anything with an accent or the like. Façade? Try Fagade. It makes me sad to see this as I am now completely addicted to my Kindle and have (almost) nothing but positives to spruik about it.
Anyway, Restless: excellent book. Fascinating spy story meshed together with one woman's exploration of her mother's secret past as a British agent in World War 2. The dual settings of the daughter (in 1976 Oxford) and the mother (in second world war Britain and the America) are deftly interwoven.
When I was a child and was being fractious and contrary and generally behaving badly, my mother used to rebuke me by saying: 'One day someone will come and kill me and then you'll be sorry'; or, 'They'll appear out of the blue and whisk me away - how would you like that?'; or, 'You'll wake up one morning and I'll be gone. Disappeared. You wait and see.' It's curious, but you don't think seriously about these remarks when you're young. But now - as I look back on the events of that interminable hot summer of 1976, that summer when England reeled, gasping for breath, pole-axed by the unending heat - now I know what my mother was talking about: I understand that bitter dark current of fear that flowed beneath the placid surface of her ordinary life - how it had never left her even after years of peaceful, unexceptionable living. I now realise she was always frightened that someone was going to come and kill her. And she had good reason.
What would you do if your mother turned out to be a complete stranger who had led a impossibly unexpected and morally challenging secret life?
Sally Gilmartin was as solid as this gatepost, I thought, resting my hand on its warm sandstone, realising at the same time how little we actually, really, know of our parents' biographies, how vague and undefined they are, like saints' lives almost - all legend and anecdote - unless we take the trouble to dig deeper.
This is only my second Boyd - after Ordinary Thunderstorms (2009) - and I don't know if the unexpectedly 'soft' ending is a feature of his other works. That was my only minor slight feeling of, um..., consternation with the book. I was bracing myself for a blood-bath. Especially after that bit with the eye-ball. Urgh.
Rating: 9/10. Proof-reading: nul points.
If you liked this... Ordinary Thunderstorms.