I'm to go ahead and say I'm in the minority in this opinion, so no need to keep reading if you have flocked with the masses on the novel...I understand. But The Alice Network by Kate Quinn simply fell short for me. I found myself looking to do anything but read - even watch horribly boring car shows my husband likes - to keep this book at bay. I powered through because I needed to find out one thing about a character - and one thing only - and it turns out I could have learned this detail from a much shorter Wikipedia search.
But, before I move into my struggles, let's roll out the basic premise of the novel:
1947- Charlie St. Claire, a college dropout because she's found herself in a family way, returns home her sophomore year. She comes from wealth, so her parents are chauffeuring her off to Switzerland to take care of her "little problem." Her father calls her a whore - and she is. She doesn't even know who the father of her child is - states it could be "any one of six or seven fraternity boys." She is reeling from the death of her brother who came home from the war a changed man and subsequently "ate a shotgun." In her attempt to recover from this loss, she uses sex as a way to make her "feel something" again. Additionally, her best friend (and cousin) Rose also disappeared during the war and Charlie believes she's still alive. Her story is basically a cross-country trip trying to find Rose. She is whiny and selfish and petulant. I did not like her, not at all.
1915 - Eve Gardinier, a woman with a stammer that feels invisible to the world, wants desperately to find a way to serve her country. One man, who becomes code name "Uncle Edouard," sees her potential and her cleverness and recruits her into a network of female spies that served during WWI. She's multilingual speaking English, German, and French and her speech impediment makes people believe she is "simple-minded." This allows her to fly under the radar of most of the time - a quality needed in a good spy. She lands a job at the Le Lethe restaurant that caters to German officers and is able to find out all kinds of information that she passes along to "powers that be." She is invaluable and her story is riveting. I loved Eve.
So - that's the story. The novels toggles back and forth between the two women and their paths cross when Charlie finds out that Eve was one of the last people to be a part of a search for what happened to her cousin Rose.
Eve's story is truly gripping and heartbreaking and shockingly amazing and awful all at the same time. She is a woman on mission to serve and gives up so much in the process of doing so. Her character tore me up...what she did, what she experienced, what she sacrificed. Learning about the small details of the spy network through Eve, the notes on rice paper and hair pins, and false bottom bags, and Lugers concealed in the most unusual places, created an entire world in my mind's eye. The danger she and other women of The Alice Network faced in a attempt to blunt the cruelty of the German army is the stuff of legends.
Charlie's story is not gripping. I couldn't stand her. She was foul and dirty and self-involved. Bratty even. Her love for her cousin I guess could be considered admirable but that was about her only redeeming quality. Reading her chapters was mind-numbing and I found myself skimming them a lot just to get back to Eve. I was bored by the 1947 "road trip" and felt like this book needed a much heavier hand with the editing. Charlie's character was redundant in her obsessive "I see Rose everywhere I look" comments and there was simply no depth to her. None.
The novel touches on all facets of war - basically that it is hell not only on those fighting, but those left behind. Each character seems to be suffering from their own form of PTSD, and each of them is dealing with the derelict of psyche in a different way. I think Quinn did admirable research in order to write this book and share Eve's story - but for me, it should have been only Eve's story. Charlie was irrelevant and detracted from the real hero of this book.
I give this book ☕☕☕because of the research and the development of Eve - she stole the show, but it is far from my favorite historical fiction novel. If you browse through Goodreads, you'll see I'd be shunned for my opinion, but what I can say - I like what I like, and this wasn't it. Historical fiction should take an event from history and give it life, revitalize it with tenacity and pulse - the inclusion of Charlie's character left this novel cold, and metaphorically dead.
Kate Quinn writes other historical fiction novels - mostly set in Greece and Rome; this seems to be her first foray into American history. I wouldn't count her out as an author for me - the writing chops are good, but she needs an editor that understands the meaning of succinct.
Visit her website at: http://www.katequinnauthor.com/
I am super excited folks! I'm diving into some "pre-summer" reading. Kristy Woodson Harvey has graciously allowed me to review her Peachtree Bluff novel series. I'll be starting with Slightly South of Simple and then moving into the second book (publication on the horizon!) The Secret to Southern Charm.
I'm also bound and determined to finish Paris over Spring Break!
Happy Reading my friends. Cheers! 🍷🍷🍷🍷🍷