British fiction

Code Name Verity – Elizabeth Wein

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Two young women become unlikely best friends during WWII, until one is captured by the Gestapo while on a mission in France.  Code Name Verity begins with the young Scottish aristocrat spy telling her story, spelling out her confession to delay her execution and stay her torture.  She weaves her tale of a friendship with pilot Maddie, painting an unforgettable image of two remarkable girls.

Wein opens strong, bringing you in deep to Julie’s story and somehow manages to garner your sympathy even while you know Julie tells secrets that could aid the Nazis.  Julie writes from Maddie’s perspective; she claims to help her tell the story and to feel distant from the crimes she commits.  When Julie herself first appears in the narrative, she splashes on to the page.  Vibrant, she disappears into the various roles required of her as a spy and you begin to question everything she writes thereafter.

I was enchanted by Wein’s framing device and especially by her two main characters.  Their voices were unique and it was easy to tell even when Julie was herself and when she was telling Maddie’s story.

Code Name Verity not only tells a great story of WWII resistance in France and abroad, but also shows the horrors and triumphs that come when the world is at war.  Maddie and Julie who come from two different worlds would never have been friends without the war effort throwing them together.   Neither of them would have ever held the jobs they did at that time without the war, and yet it is that war that also tears them apart.
There is a moment when Wein observes that even though the Gestapo do horrible things, they all look like normal people.  Torturers, members of the resistance, and even undercover officers all look alike.  While they suffer in France, Maddie and Julie both learn that it is hard to separate the evil above them with people they might have known in their own lives.
Elizabeth Wein makes Code Name Verity a must-read with a strong character-driven story, captivating details, and a heartwarming narrative that will make you believe in true friendship.
I will say that I find it strange that they have shelved Code Name Verity as YA when both protagonists are grown women and there is hardly a teenager in sight.  While I understand that young girls might find their tale inspiring, I think the book is worthy of being classified as literature for all ages, without the limitation that a YA distinction can have.
Rating: 8.5/10

My Memories of a Future Life – Roz Morris

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My Memories of a Future LifeMy Memories of a Future Life follows Carol Lear, a once concert pianist who has to deal with losing her gift.  Plagued by mysterious pains in her hands and arms, Carol has to look at life without the one thing that had always defined it – performing.  When she goes with her roommate to a public hypnotherapy session, she is skeptical of the theory of past lives.  But when Carol agrees to a session of her own with a former school acquaintance named Gene, her timeline jumps forwards instead of backwards.  Carol begins to wonder if what she experiences is real or not, and she also has to fight to understand Gene, as he only seems to want to treat her and never talk.

This particular novel was originally serialized on Kindle and then later published as a whole.  I think it works well in four parts, if only because the first part helps to ground you in the story.  The other three parts delve progressively deeper into this world that Carol has discovered, and not everything she finds appeals to her.  It would be easy to see this novel as only focused on the identity crisis Carol suffers when she is confronted with not touching a piano for months, if ever again.  And in a lot of ways, the novel is exactly about that, but with a unique twist.  Her skepticism of the legitimacy of her “future life” is woven throughout the novel.  And even though her roommate’s experience guided her to Gene’s treatment in the first place, she doesn’t believe it.  We are never really sure if Carol believes that Andreq (her future incarnation) and his world are actually real or imaginary, but she treasures the experiences nonetheless.

I found the novel engrossing.  I approached it skeptically, much like Carol, simply because the idea of past lives is a subject that I personally don’t believe in.  I liked that Carol never really dove into it, not really, because she could not understand it.  When approached by some interesting spiritualists, Carol refuses to discuss her experiences with them.  I felt it was partially because she didn’t really believe what she experienced, not really, and partially because she was not willing to share it with anyone else.  Getting to know Andreq also meant she got to know Gene even better, and I think it was his trust and relationship that she never really wanted to betray.

For the most part, My Memories of a Future Life was well-written and interesting.  I wanted to keep reading, to see what would happen in Carol’s life and in her hypnotherapy sessions.  I wanted her to break down the walls around Gene, I wanted him to open up and act real.  What drove this novel for me was definitely the interaction between Carol and Gene, but also her adjustment to a new way of life without the instrument she loved.  As someone whose life had revolved around music for years, I identified with her loss and her struggle to move on without the daily interaction of an instrument.  The novel resonates on so many levels.

I did feel, however, that Carol’s first session with Gene was jarring, but perhaps Morris wanted it to jar with the reader because it definitely surprised Carol.  My other minor gripe was the ending.  I suppose I wanted a bit more closure to the story, and the gale that came and swept away Carol and her problems was a bit heavy-handed to me.  It felt bizarre.  Of course, here again it is easy to see that the wave was meant to wash away Carol’s past in order to let her begin her life again.  I’m not sure how you would improve the ending, but I know that it left me slightly unsatisfied (I do prefer things a bit more tidy, I guess).  But even with its flaws, the novel reels you in and delivers a very satisfactory read.

All in all, My Memories of a Future Life was an intriguing piece of fiction.  I will definitely be on the lookout for more books by Roz Morris, whose style flows effortlessly and beautifully across the page.

Rating: 7/10
Format: Kindle