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Wednesday, May 16, 2012

"Trapeze" by Simon Mawer ~ Bravery of A Woman Heralded!

Summary : Barely out of school and doing her bit for the British war effort, Marian Sutro has one quality that makes her stand out—she is a native French speaker. It is this that attracts the attention of the SOE, the Special Operations Executive, which trains agents to operate in occupied Europe. Drawn into this strange, secret world at the age of nineteen, she finds herself undergoing commando training, attending a “school for spies,” and ultimately, one autumn night, parachuting into France from an RAF bomber to join the WORDSMITH resistance network.

   But there’s more to Marian’s mission than meets the eye of her SOE controllers; her mission has been hijacked by another secret organization that wants her to go to Paris and persuade a friend—a research physicist—to join the Allied war effort. The outcome could affect the whole course of the war.

   A fascinating blend of fact and fiction, Trapeze is both an old-fashioned adventure story and a modern exploration of a young woman’s growth into adulthood. There is violence, and there is love. There is death and betrayal, deception and revelation. But above all there is Marian Sutro, an ordinary young woman who, like her real-life counterparts in the SOE, did the most extraordinary things at a time when the ordinary was not enough.

Published by:  Other Press
Pages:  371
Genre:  Fiction/Historical
Purchase:  Barnes & Noble   and  Amazon

*NOTE:   In order to acquaint yourself with Mr. Mawer's work, please take a moment to view this trailer of his "The Glass Room":


A Short Bio. of Simon Mawer :

Please find all about Mr. Mawer and his books here:  http://www.simonmawer.com

Born: 1948, in England
Childhood: England, Cyprus & Malta
School: Millfield, In Somerset, UK
University: Brasenose College, Oxford
First publication: Chimera, 1989 Hamish Hamilton.
My eighth novel (and tenth book) has just been published by Little, Brown - The Glass Room.

There are four of us: my wife Connie, to whom I owe everything ...and my children Matthew and Julia, who also have put up with a great deal...
My father, like his father before him, served in the Royal Air Force. We lived the nomadic life of a typical military family, spending, amongst various moves in England, three years in Cyprus during the EOKA period and a total of five years in Malta. These experiences planted in me a love of the Mediterranean world which has lasted my whole life. They also gave me a taste for exile which I have never lost. When people ask me where I come from I am still unable to reply. I have lived in Italy for more than three decades, but Italy is not home. Home is where the mind is, perhaps.
From the age of eight I was educated in boarding schools, an experience I loathed at first but later came to enjoy. Above all it forced upon me the need to preserve a secret, interior world in a society where privacy was at a premium, training that was surely significant in the development of a writer.
After university I spent three years teaching biology in the Channel Islands, two years in Scotland, and two in Malta, before moving to Rome where I have lived ever since. Teaching and family took up much time, and it wasn't until my fortieth year that my first novel, Chimera, was sold, to Hamish Hamilton.

An Excerpt/ a portion of Chapter One from "Trapeze" :
She’s sitting in the fuselage, trussed like a piece of baggage, battered by noise. Half an hour earlier they manhandled her up through the door because she was too encumbered with her parachute to climb the ladder unassisted; now she is just there, with the sound drumming on her ears, and the inadequate light and the hard metal and packages all around her.
If only she could sleep, like Benoit. He’s sitting opposite, his eyes closed and his head rocking with the movement of the machine. Like a passenger on a train. It’s one of the most infuriating things about him, his ability to sleep wherever and whenever he pleases.
The dispatcher – young, gauche, prominent Adam’s apple and slicked hair – stumbles towards her through the racket. He seems a kind of Charon, accompanying the souls of the dead towards Hades. Her father would love that thought. His classical allusions. “Illusions”, she always called them. The airman grins ghoulishly at her and bends to open the hatch in the floor, releasing night and cold into the fuselage like water rushing in from a sprung leak. Looking down she can see the huddled buildings of a town sliding beneath, smudged with cloud and lit by the moon, a mysterious seabed over which their craft floats. Benoit opens one eye to see what’s going on, gives her a quick smile and returns to his sleep.
‘CAEN!’ the dispatcher shouts above the noise. He begins to bundle packets of paper out into the blackness, like a manic delivery boy throwing newspapers to his customers in the darkness of a winter morning. The bundles crack open as they drop into the void. He thrusts one of the leaflets towards her so that she can read the news.
La Revue du Monde Libre, it says, Apportée par la R.A.F.
She smiles. Someone like you. But who, exactly?
Anne-Marie Laroche.
A package to be delivered, like a bundle of leaflets.
Without warning the machine begins to pitch, a boat struck by waves. ‘FLAK!’ the dispatcher shouts, seeing her look of surprise. He’s grinning, as though Flak is nothing, and indeed there is nothing to be heard above the racket of the engines, no sound of shells bursting, no intimation that people down below are trying to kill them, nothing more than this pitching and banking.
And sure enough they are soon over it and the aircraft roars on, the hatch closed, through calmer waters.
Later the youth brings her and Benoit a mug of tea and a sandwich. Benoit scoffs his down hungrily – ‘Eat, mon p’tit chat,’ he tells her, but she cannot eat for the same reason that she couldn’t eat at the safe house before they went to the airfield, that slow, knotted constriction of her stomach muscles that had tightened up inside her from the moment that Vera had said, ‘TRAPEZE is scheduled for the next moon. Assuming the weather’s kind, of course.’ That was when the pain began, a dull ache like period pains when it wasn’t her period at all.
‘Are you all right?’ Vera asked her as they made their final preparations at the airfield. She had the manner of a nurse enquiring after a patient – concerned, but with a certain detachment, as though this were just a task to complete before moving on to the next bed.
‘Of course I’m all right.’
‘You look pale.’
‘It’s the damned English weather.’
And now it’s the French weather outside, buffeting the aircraft as it hammers on through the night. When she has finished the tea she manages to sleep, a nodding, awkward sleep more like a patient slipping in and out of consciousness than someone getting rest. And then she is awake again, with the dispatcher shaking her shoulder and shouting in her ear: ‘WE’RE NEARLY THERE, LOVE! GET YOURSELF READY!’
Love. She likes that. English comfort. The hatch in the floor is opened once more and as she peers down she sees something new, pale fields and dark woods skidding past below the aircraft, almost close enough to touch. The vasty fields of France, her father used to say. Benoit is wide awake now and alert, patting his pockets to make sure all is ready, zipping things up, checking his kit.
The plane tilts, turning in a wide circle, engines roaring. She can imagine the pilot up in the cockpit, searching, searching, straining to see the tiny glimmers of torchlight which mean that they are expected down there in the dark. A lamp comes on in the roof of the fuselage, a single, unblinking red eye. The dispatcher gives the thumbs up. ‘HE’S FOUND IT!’
There’s a note of admiration and triumph in his shout, as though this proves what wonders his crew are able to perform, to come all this way in the darkness, eight hundred miles from home, and find a pinprick of light in a blackened world. He attaches the static line from their parachutes to the rail on the roof of the fuselage and double-checks the buckles of their harnesses. The aircraft makes one pass over the dropping zone and she can hear the sound of the containers leaving the bomb bay and see them flash beneath, their canopies billowing open. Then the machine banks and turns and steadies for the second run.

The Dame is Privileged To Entertain Mr. Mawer :

Sir, delighted to have you here at A Bookish Libraria!  Such a distinguished author of a New York Times best-selling novel (The Glass Room (Other Press)) and short-listed for the Man Booker Prize...makes me very humble.  I shall try not to bore you with my questions!     *NOTE:  These questions were asked in a pre-subscribed venue:
First of all, please tell us a special something about what makes you "tick." When you aren’t writing, what are you doing?

Thinking about writing.

You chose a specific genre, a place and time to write about, what made you choose it?

I only ever write about what grips me. In this case, the idea of a woman agent of the Special Operations Executive—a real woman, not a Hollywood thriller idea of such a woman. In my previous book—the life of a house, a particularly beautiful house, through the turbulent years of the last century. I don’t go searching for a theme, the idea grabs me. And I don’t write in any genre—genre is what other people impose on my writing. I just write what I want in the way I want.

In your opinion, what makes a book a great one?

Objectively? Whether it survives over time. Subjectively? Whether it creates a convincing world of its own, whether it emerges from the constraints of the page to live inside my mind.

Which author(s) most influenced your love of books from childhood?

Kenneth Grahame, A. A. Milne, Enid Blyton, Lewis Carroll, Herg
é, W. E. Johns… but most? How can I tell?
Read any good books in the past 6 months?

Goodness, I don’t have that kind of memory. The Hare with Amber Eyes by Edmund de Waal. I loved that. At the moment I am reading My Dear I Wanted to Tell You by Louisa Young. Terrific.
Choose 4 guests from any era for dinner. Who would they be and what would you choose for a topic of conversation?

Charles Darwin and Gregor Mendel in 1865. You wouldn’t need any others, except a translator, and me to keep prodding. Topic? Can you come up with a coherent model of genetics and evolution 75 years early? And why didn’t you?

Which of your characters is most like you?

They are all me.

If you could cast your book for a movie, who would you choose?

Really, this is not a game I play. What 20ish-year-old, perfectly bilingual French/English actresses do you know? On the other hand filmmakers would probably reset it in Afghanistan in 2015 and have Marian played by a computer-generated Lara Croft look-alike.
 Tell us a secret about your book we wouldn’t otherwise know, please!

If I told you, it wouldn’t be a secret. How about this, connected with the book but not of it—I’m writing a sequel.
Simon Mawer

The Dame's Last Word : Mr. Mawer is a learned and wise gentleman who spends most of his time in research and writing.  His novel "Trapeze" is reflective of this. While he is an intellect and scholar, his book is infinitely readable and moves at a fast pace.  I enjoyed it very much.

"Trapeze" is a love story and a crow's eyed view of the behind the scenes during WWII in France.  It is a tribute to the many women who served and died in the Resistance.  I believe it's a tribute to all women who brave the front and hidden alleyways of war even today, and may never get the recognition they deserve. It always strikes me hard that the heroines (and heros) of war are so often young people in their latter teens and early 20's.

There is violence, there is a daring in events, requirements of bravery; and. not so much a "coming of age" as a story of learning the hardships and harsh realities of life in this novel.  There certainly is a story of "bucking up" under terrifying situations for the young woman protagonist, 19 year old, Marian Sutro.We learn the ever true story that war creates heroes and survivors, or those who are destroyed and wounded. A wise man once said that "courage is simply fear bolstered by prayer."  In "Trapeze" we find this sort of courage.  Marian Sutro, just a simple young woman of no apparent genius, learned to draw from a courage she didn't realize she had, and that meant everything in a world gone crazy with violence and  desperation.   

The love story between Marian and research physicist Clement Pelletier is poignant and, at the same time, filled with tension.  It is through this relationship we feel the impact of the war and the human tragedies and risks played out.  Their chemistry leaps off the pages, and I don't mean physics!

All in all, I loved "Trapeze."  It's not an ordinary historical fiction.  It's a novel with contemporary relevance; one with a universal message and a tribute to not only the women of the French resistance, but of all women who fight behind the scenes for their country, for freedom. 

5 stars




I'll have to get this book for my mother - she dreamed of being a spy when she was a child.


This sounds like a great book! I'm adding to my wish list again...

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