Now this is going to be a difficult review. It would be absolutely unforgiveable if I gave away or hinted at even one of the enigmas and surprises of this beautifully layered and crafted story.
“Verity” is a British agent, captured in Nazi-occupied France, and has been systematically tortured into giving up the wireless codes she was privy to and absolutely everything she can recall about the Allied war effort. She has been given a reprieve as she writes down her recollections in the form of letters that are taken from her each day and translated for the Gestapo general in charge of her incarceration and torture.
These letters – interspersed with present tense recounting of her treatment at the hands of the Nazis – slowly build up to tell the story of two young women, Queenie and Maddie – the former a member of Scottish landed gentry, the latter a working class Mancunian of Jewish descent. They certainly would never have met had the war effort not pushed them together, but become true and fast friends. Maddie – we know from the off – has died, crashing the plane that Verity parachuted from to arrive in France, but Verity’s narrative makes her live again as we learn her story and friendship with Queenie and others.
Code Name Verity is one of those clever, clever books that make you want to re-read them immediately. The context of the war and thrilling secret agentry is marvellous, but the heart of the story is the friendship between Maddie and Queenie – and of course, the black humour and desperation of our narrator Verity. As witty and entertaining as Verity is however nothing escapes from the misery of the Gestapo torture, Verity’s knowledge that Maddie is dead and once she finishes her damming narrative – replete with wireless and RAF secrets – the best thing that Verity can hope for is death for herself, as the spectre of concentration camps and horrific medical experimentation looms ever nearer the closer she gets to the end of her tale.
A funny, sad, wonderful book – totally engrossing. Highly recommended – but read with tissues handy – and whatever you do, don’t spoil it for yourself.