The Spy Game by Georgina Harding

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The Spy Game by Georgina Harding

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Category: Literary Fiction
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: Ruth Ng
Reviewed by Ruth Ng
Summary: Nicely evocative of the cold war era but don't expect an exciting spy story as this is a rather slow and sombre read.
Buy? No Borrow? Maybe
Pages: 320 Date: April 2009
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing plc
ISBN: 978-0747597087

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One day in 1961 eight year old Anna's mother gets ready to go out, kisses Anna goodbye and she never comes home. Anna is told that her mother died in a car accident, but her death is so shrouded in silence, dealt with so tidily and neatly by family friends, that it seems unreal. On the same day a Russian spy ring is uncovered in London and several arrests are made of people who weren't really who they said they were and were living double lives. Anna's brother, Peter (who loves making model war planes and reading spy stories and making up codes), begins to speculate that their mother isn't really dead but that because she was a refugee from Eastern Germany she was actually a spy working undercover and she might still be alive. Anna struggles to remember her mother, her day to day activities, searching for clues that might reveal if she had another secret idenity. Through Anna's journey to uncover the truth about her mother the book looks at memory, childhood, imagination and grief.

I was looking forward to starting this novel after reading the blurb as I thought it would be an exciting spy story, but when I actually began to read I found it quite a slow and laborious process. I could quite easily put the book down for the smallest distraction, and then had to persuade myself to pick it up again later and keep going. Harding has created a period piece though, and there is a real sense of being back in the 1960's with its 'not in front of the children' conspiracy of silence. The repression of feelings and emotions is cleverly depicted, but at the same time I felt that there were no characters I felt sympathetic towards, except perhaps Anna's father. Her brother, Peter, is a very irritating boy, which is perhaps intentional, but certainly the main character of Anna I just found rather empty, even in the sections where she is older, a mother herself, and makes a trip to Germany and Russia to try and find out more about her mother. I felt frustrated that she goes along with Peter's speculations and that she never finds the courage to speak to her father about their fears.

I found the shifts between past and present a little awkward at times and I was disappointed with the ambigious ending as I like a story to end 'properly'! So I felt I'd read the whole book in a state of anticipation and yet I was no clearer at the end than at the beginning. Perhaps this was the author's intention. To me, however, it felt like an uncommitted finale. There were some snatches of lovely descriptive writing throughout, moments in time that have been captured beautifully. Anna is walking in the snow at one point and notes that the night stretched all around and nothing seemed to begin or end. My exhaled breath made vapour in the cold air and I imagined that all of myself could be vapour, dissolving out into the night. There is also a moment with her father where she says he sipped his sherry and I saw the melancholy of the idle moment in his face. It was an adult moment with a preoccupation in it that a child could not break.

Perhaps readers who were children themselves during the cold war would more fully appreciate how the era has been captured. I think the book requires a forgiving reader, someone who is willing to take their time to appreciate some of the technicalities of the writing and will enjoy a quietly paced, historical novel that's more about the experience of reading it than the expected spy story plot.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.

If this book appeals then you might also enjoy Playing With The Moon by Eliza Graham.

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Buy The Spy Game by Georgina Harding at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Spy Game by Georgina Harding at Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
Buy The Spy Game by Georgina Harding at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Spy Game by Georgina Harding at


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