Review of CODE NAME VERITY by ELIZABETH WEIN
This didn’t sound like my kind of book, but enough people raved about it to me that I finally took the chance. Yup, they’re raving for a reason.
If you’re wondering about my hesitancy, I worried the book would be too dark for my tastes. That might sound funny to anyone who reads this blog regularly and can point out some very dark titles I list as favorites, but I find real life horrors far more depressing and scary than monsters. Most of said favorites are fantasy and while many do touch on real world issues and atrocities, whether directly or indirectly, it’s not the same as reading fiction based on a real war.
As much as I loved this book, I didn’t feel hooked until around the hundred page mark. In fact, I know others who gave up on the book before reaching that far, left wondering why everyone’s so enamored with this novel. Let’s back up a little bit, because explaining what the book is about also explains why it’s a difficult read, especially at first. The narrative isn’t that clear or reliable. The narrator is an Allied spy captured by the Gestapo. She’s delivering her story to her captors via writing on whatever scraps of paper they’ll bring her. You can’t trust everything she says, because she’s no doubt trying to confuse and mislead her enemies. As if that’s not enough, she’s being tortured. Short on sleep and food and full of pain, her story wanders and garbles. The New York Times called this a “mind game of a novel” and it’s easy to see why. I struggled following the narrative at first as well as investing our narrator (though her circumstances tugged my heart strings, I just didn’t know how much of her story to believe). After one hundred pages of straining to “get into” the story, I abruptly felt extremely “into it.” Mind you, I’m not saying something big and dramatic happens around that point, only that Wein’s some kind of author and even when I thought I wasn’t hooked she had been working her magic. Even when I thought I wasn’t investing, I had been. It was only around that hundred page mark that my full investment hit me. My point is stick with it, because the only people I know who didn’t like this book gave up too early.
From there my opinion steadily improved until by the end I had fully climbed aboard the train full of people marveling at this tale. The story’s broken into two parts and the second part makes the reader reanalyze their understanding of everything in the first part. This is definitely one of those “trust the author” books when you might find yourself confused or uncertain near the beginning, but Wein will lead you to the right revelations at the right moments. Trust her.
My only grumble over this novel is that it’s very dense with aircraft terminology. It’s clear why: the friends who star in this story work with planes. On the one hand, the terminology adds to how realistic the voice feels, because I’m sure that’s how she would talk. However, for someone who doesn’t know a lot of those terms and isn’t that interested in the specific details about planes and flights, it’s a lot to wade through.
Since this is a World War II novel, I hardly think it’s a spoiler to say there are some heartbreaking moments. Wein’s restrained approach to tragic scenes allows readers to fill in the blanks with their own emotions. I have a feeling CODE NAME VERITY will linger in my mind for years to come.