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Trapeze Paperback – May 1, 2012
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A Letter from the Author
Inspiration for Trapeze
In the five years of its existence, the British Special Operations Executive trained and dispatched thousands of agents to work behind enemy lines in almost every theatre of war, from Europe to South East Asia. Living a clandestine life under false identities these men and women were not spies. The role of SOE was destruction, not intelligence--in the famous words of Winston Churchill, they were to “set Europe ablaze”. Since the war particular SOE exploits have gained much attention – the attack on the Norwegian heavy water plant in Rjukan and the assassination of Heydrich in Prague being among the best known – but it is surely the French operations which capture the imagination, and in particular, the story of the women agents of F Section. Among the western Allies these were the only women to be trained for combat and between 1941 and 1944 fifty women agents of F Section were infiltrated into France. They ranged from the middle-aged to the barely out of school, and covered all manner of types, from Princess Noor Inayat Khan, daughter of an Indian Sufi mystic, to Violette Szabo, a working class cockney girl who was wife of a French Foreign Legionnaire and was a dead shot in fairground shooting ranges. But many were just ordinary women who by accident of birth happened to possess one distinguishing feature: they spoke fluent French. Their stories of the clandestine life are as varied as the women themselves but my personal interest goes back to one woman’s story, that of Anne-Marie Walters. I was about ten when my mother passed the book on to me. Battered and well-thumbed and missing its spine, it stands on my bookshelf as I write. The title is Moondrop to Gascony and it recounts, in vivid first person, the experiences of the author after she was recruited by SOE in 1943. The reason for my mother’s interest was that at the time of her recruitment Anne-Marie was a WAAF (member of the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force), serving alongside my mother at Fighter Command HQ in Stanmore just north of London. Even my father had a connection to this intrepid young woman. During the war he had been a pilot on an RAF special operations squadron flying from Algeria. The role of this squadron was to supply arms and agents to resistance groups in southern Europe. As Anne-Marie’s network, code-named WHEELWRIGHT, operated in the southwest of France, it is almost certain that my father dropped supplies to her and her companions. My parents never met up with Anne-Marie after the war--she spent most of her life in France and Spain working as an editor and translator--so my personal connection was always at one remove: being captivated, for as long as I can remember, by the book itself, Anne-Marie Walters’s own remarkable story, narrated with a young woman's élan but tempered with a mature, objective honesty. SOE agents used a field name when they were on operations. Hers was Colette; it is to Colette that I have dedicated my own celebration of the women of SOE.
“Much-lauded British author Mawer vividly describes the deprivations in a war occupied country and its once-vibrant capital and provides testimony to the courage of countless members of the French Resistance. But this is primarily a masterfully crafted homage to the 53 extraordinary women of the French section of the SOE on whose actual exploits the novel is based. With its lyrical yet spare prose and heart-pounding climax, this is a compelling historical thriller of the highest order.” –Booklist (starred review)
"The book is full of the fascinating minutiae of espionage–aircraft drops, code-cracking, double agents, scrambled radio messages. There's a romance, too, though Mawer isn't one to dwell on his characters' inner lives, and Marian, who is "trained to keep secrets," remains frustratingly unknowable. Still, Mawer exhibits a great feeling for suspence, and produces memorable episodes in dark alleyways, deserted cafes, and shadowy corners of Père Lachaise" –The New Yorker
“Incorporating many of the finest elements of spy thrillers and even romance novels, Trapeze is a fascinating tale of and homage to the resistance fighters and members of the SOE.” –New York Journal of Books
“Like the best historical fiction, the book is very much of its intended time, full of clandestine tidbits and Churchillian attitude, but not to the exclusion of the human elements that are required of any compelling story.” –The Daily Beast
“Trapeze sets a thriller-like pace, and Mawer writes compellingly about the deprivations of wartime France as well as the everyday dangers of occupied Paris…Though very much a story about the intricacies of the spy network, Trapeze is also about a young woman who is called upon to do something extraordinary and is thus forever changed.” –Bookpage
“Where his last Booker-shortlisted novel, The Glass Room, gave an expansive overview of a whole country over the course of 50 years, Mawer’s latest is a more intense and tightly-focused story. Radiating an atmosphere of tense suspicion and claustrophobia, it is utterly gripping from start to finish.” –Daily Mail (UK)
“In this literary thriller, inspired by real female agents during WWII, an Englishwoman is recruited into a dangerous espionage mission.” –Karen Holt, O Magazine
“Simon Mawer is an elegant writer and a meticulous researcher…[Trapeze] combines a stirring adventure with a potent reflection on the allure of desire, duty and danger.” –London Evening Standard (UK)
“Mawer’s representations of England and France — both rural and urban — are at once eerily quiet and bustling with confusion, as he illustrates the fateful moments in a war and in a young woman’s life.” –Historical Novel Society
“Mawer's crisp prose, erudite science and subtle bilingual details raise Trapeze above the genre riff-raff.” –Shelf Awareness
“There are many shades of Graham Greene here…[Trapeze] delivers its story with the same delicate, stropped-razor deadliness that creeps up on you like Harry Lime in the shadows, nastily irresistible.” –Financial Times
“Readers will be stunned as they read the final pages of this fast-paced and exhilarating historical novel about a young woman’s path to maturity.” –The Columbus Dispatch
“Readers who empathize with Marian, and many will, will be stunned as they read the final pages of this fast-paced and exhilarating historical novel about a young woman's path to maturity” –Shelf Awareness
“A brilliant and engaging blend of fact and fiction, this novel will hook readers from the start and amaze them with a story of adventure, betrayal, growing into adulthood and love.” –KSL
“In a perfect combination of intrigue, romance, betrayal and incredible bravery, Mawer has, once again, as he did in The Glass Room, told a story that is factual and fictional with the edges blurred just so.” –Seattle Times
"Trapeze...is a stark, focused adventure...[a] skillfully and intelligently executed thriller." –Washington Post
"Trapeze…is a stark, focused adventure…Although narrower in scope than Mawer's earlier work, Trapeze is no less rich and provocative. And in Marian he's created a marvelous heroine.” –Newday
Top Customer Reviews
What he brings to to the familiar territory of the SOE's operations in France is a great narrative style and tremendous ability in bringing to life characters whose objectives and convictions aren't always clear even to themselves, and who experience fear and terror rather than posturing bravely in the manner of a golden era movie hero or heroine. Marian Sutro, recruited because of her ability to speak French like a native and dispatched to work with an SOE circuit in the southwest of France, is often terrified and battles nightmares about falling through the air -- just as she did in real life when she arrived via parachute. When she is dispatched to Paris on a special assignment for a rival espionage organization, fear turns to terror, all the more acute because the physical landscape of Paris so familiar to her and yet simultaneously nightmarishly different. Mawer's descriptions were so vivid that I found my own breathing becoming more rapid and my palms damp as Marian negotiates her way through the Parisian streets, at first haunted by a sense of unease and later trying to dodge pursuit.Read more ›
This review is based on an e-galley provided by the publishers.
Interestingly Mawer briefly ties in Leo Marks' work as presented in Marks' fascinating nonfiction work "Between Silk and Cyanide: a Code Makers War"*. Marks' book is understandable to the layman and tremendously humorous while still being, literally, deadly serious.
Between Silk and Cyanide: A Codemaker's War, 1941-1945
The setting is WW2. The heroine, Marian Sutro (though she goes by many different names in the course of the novel), is young, beautiful, and bilingual, born of an English father and a French mother. Although barely out of school, she gets recruited by British Intelligence for training as a spy, and is parachuted into the southwest of France to help organize the resistance in that region, with the additional mission of contacting a French nuclear physicist in Paris to persuade him to come to Britain. The hook is that the scientist, Clément Pelletier, is an old childhood friend to whom she had a strong emotional attachment. For more even than being a spy story, TRAPEZE is a romance, as Marian must weigh her lingering crush on Clément against her first physical experience with a fellow agent in the south.
Why did Mawer, who is usually a much more sophisticated author, chose this subject? I seem to have been reading such books almost since WW2 ended; the most recent is ...Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
As other readers have observed, this novel of the oft-traveled OES and French underground during World War Two can hold its own in the genre. Read morePublished 16 days ago by ThrillerFan
Seriously, one of the best books I have read. Took me a while to read. Also the Glass House was fascinating. Not so much interested in Tightrope.Published 1 month ago by hawley bigelow
So much potential, difficult to say whether this book is really worth reading, as it is more like half a novel, the author has created a wonderful foundation in so many aspects,... Read morePublished 1 month ago by Daniel Stuelpnagel
Great story--suspenseful, well written and narrated. French Resistance during WWII--feel like you get to know main character.Published 2 months ago by K A Hanson-Morris
Based on a true story but fictionalized. Set in WW2 in occupied France. Riveting from both the context of the larger story of war and the more personal story of the main character.Published 2 months ago by Michael Katims
Great read - very descriptive depiction of life of a spy during WWII.Published 2 months ago by Barb Van Buskirk
Couldn't put it down. Was very distraught with the ending - losing the heroine. But now have started the sequel and all is well.Published 2 months ago by John L.
Pleasant fiction read with complex female main character and interesting historical context.Published 2 months ago by R. Flint