Last night I settled down to read the last third of my third Boyd novel, Restless. What an enjoyable and easy read!! It completes my third Boyd and I shall certainly read more. This also completes my 20th novel since arriving in Hong Kong. Clearly if nothing else my stay in HK is increasing my reading appetite.
Restless changes style from the other two I have read being really a spy thriller at heart. Having said that it hardly does justice to the many inter-personal dynamics within the novel particularly in the relationship between Ruth and her mother Sally, alias Eva, a russian émigré who came to the UK and was trained and operated as a spy in the second world war. This later fact is revealed to her daughter to complete shock and surprise at the opening of the novel. The tension that such a revelation may evoke for Ruth is a sub-theme which hangs there without direct exploration. It is nevertheless a compelling sub-plot as it cleverly leaves the reader wondering about what you would feel if your mother revealed in old age she had been a spy in the war!!
The plot itself is unleashed in bite size pieces through the device of giving her daughter chapters from her life story which then evoke reactions and inveigles itself into the normal life of Ruth, a single mother teaching english as a second language in Oxford whilst a possible academic career sits on hold as her PhD stalls.
As with the other Boyd novels I have read the writing is so good and you become engrossed in the story as it unfolds. A further sub-plot reveals itself in that Ruth is the unwitting partner in seeking the denouement her mother needs from her past by helping her reveal the whereabouts of the suave aristocractic Englishman who had first recruited Sally to this role in the 1930s – Lucas Romer. I would just be a little peeved if my mother not only revealed a secret life to me unknown to her own husband in his lifetime and then used me in a plot to take revenge on her erstwhile lover and boss Romer. Still therein lies some of the fascination of the book.
Both female leads are presented as guarded individuals emotionally which fits with their lives so far and the demands of being a spy trusting no-one, questioning everyone and the lonliness and emotional guardedness of the single parent. I know the latter challenges. The minutiae of the scenes are so well set out – what they eat for breakfast, the routines of teaching english, living in a small sleepy Oxford village, going to a cafe or bar. I think I liked it!!
So where to next? I have just discovered the Orange Fiction long list. Far too long to get to grips with it all but I am going to dip into it with one or two novels hoping they will make the shortlist. Anyone who can predict the best of these for me to focus on I would be grateful. My reading is though hemmed in by the ability to purchase the right novels in Hong Kong, again the search for books left me with only one of the Orange list so far. Room by Emma Donahue is on the long list and it was my Booker favourite so I have a comparator for the other novels. The first time I’ve focused on the Orange so that will be interesting too.