Book Review: The Alice Network
In 1947, College teen Charlie St. Clair sits in a cafe in France. She is an American socialite, a mathematician and…pregnant. Her nervous mother is taking her to Switzerland to quietly “take care of the Little Problem” going in her belly. But Charlie has other plans in mind. Her cousin, and best friend, Rose, went missing in France during the war and Charlie is determined to find her.
“Solve for X,” Charlie tells herself, getting up and embarking on a search that not only hurl her on a journey to find Rose but also herself.
In her search, Charlie meets Eve Gardener, a foul-mouthed, crippled, alcoholic, ex-spy and their two stories begin to weave together.
A Spoiler Free Review
National Bestselling Author Kate Quinn has done it again in her newest novel The Alice Network (released in June 2017).
The story is told in two timelines with alternating POV (points of view). The first takes place from Eve’s perspective in 1915, the other from Charlie’s perspective in 1947.
In Eve's chapters, we learn that she is a recruited by the British Secret Service and is stationed as a waitress in Lille, France (which is under German occupation). Her flair for acting and secret mastery of the German language enables her to spy on the officers she serves. She meets her trainer, Lili, the “Queen of Spies” and is mesmerized by her wit, courage, and joy in the face of adversity. The two form selfless friendship that is a driving force for Eve even three decades later.
This is the hardest book I’ve reviewed so far and I’m trying to discern why.
For one thing, it was a hard read. Don’t misunderstand, The Alice Network is beautiful, and as a reader, I felt that I was in the hands of a true storyteller. However, what makes this such a hard book to review is the heavy subject matter as it deals with the harshness of both world wars, female heroism, PTSD and the goodness and evil of men.
Charlie St. Clair - Though it seems like Charlie is motivated by on logic, she is actually all heart. She has a strong savior mentality and is grappling with the death of the brother she couldn't save.
Eve Gardner - Is soldier at heart and is capable of deep love and sensitivity. She has a stutter which makes most of those around her believe she is slowwitted. But she uses this misjudgment of her intelligence to her best advantage when she becomes a spy.
Louise de Bettignies alias Lilli - This character is based on the real spy, Louise de Bettignies, who ran one of the most successful spy networks in WW1. When writing about any real historical figure, an an author needs to approach the matter with knowledge and respect. Quinn did nothing but honor this great woman. Lili's character was absolutely enchanting and she felt utterly real to me.
The risk authors run when writing multiple POV is that readers tend to like one POV more than another. But in The Alice Network, I found myself fascinated with both storylines and the characters because each felt vital to the other.
The contribution of women in both world wars
The whole novel deals realistically with the sacrifice that female spies made during both world wars. The story tells of the day-to-day waiting, the starvation, the exhaustion, the risk, the imprisonment, the torture, and the self-enterprising politics of some of the army seniors, who counted them more as assets than human beings.
The Alice Network isn’t a fluffy bedtime story, but if you’re willing to take the effort, it is profound, harrowing and beautiful. It deals (as realistically as fiction can) with PTSD and I was grateful that it didn't glamorize espionage. If you liked Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein then The Alice Network is the next book for you. However, the Alice Network definitely contains more adult content than Verity.
Five stars and well done Kate Quinn!