Monday, 6 August 2018

Review: Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

Author: Elizabeth Wein
Genre: YA Historical Fiction (WW2)
Pages: 452
Source: Local library

Code Name Verity is the story of two British girls in the war effort: Maddie, a pilot, and Julie, a wireless operator, but really it's a gorgeous story of friendship. 

'It's like being in love, discovering your best friend.'

We start the story from Julie's perspective, as she's being tortured as a prisoner of war by the Gestapo in occupied France. You'd think that would be very dark, and it is in a sense, but her voice shines through and makes it funny. Like her constant protests that she's not English, she's SCOTTISH YOU NAZI BASTARDS. It also helps that we don't get many direct descriptions of the torture. What we read is a sort of confession that she's agreed to give to the Gestapo in exchange for an end to the torture; she has promised to sell out and give them the codes to the wireless sets and all the information she has on Britain's war efforts. Only she decides to give the information as a kind of novel, weaving information in with the story of her and Maddie's unlikely friendship - a Scottish royal and a mechanic's daughter brought together by war. They were brilliant characters - Strong Female Characters, but Julie was still feminine and Maddie still had her fears and vulnerabilities.

'There is only one reason I did not go down in flames over the Angers, and that is because I knew I had Julie in the back. Would never have had the presence of mind to put that fire out if I hadn't been trying to save her life.'

So the book is her confession, and goes between the present tense (what's currently happening to her as a prisoner of war) and the information she's providing. She's told to talk about British planes, so she tells the whole long story of Maddie's love for planes, and how she moved from motorbikes to flying and up through the ranks in the RAF and the Air Transport Auxiliary. The author is a pilot herself, so there are a lot of details about planes, which I thought was kinda cool but may not work for everyone.


Some criticisms:

  • It seemed a bit unrealistic that the Gestapo captain would just allow her to give the information in novel form rather than punishing her for all the irrelevant information. The captain (Hauptsturmfuhrer von Linden, I think) is shown to be a lover of literature and a school headmaster outside of war times, but even still. 
  • It took me ages to get into the book, though once I did I really liked it. I'm just glad I'd heard so many good reviews that encouraged me to push through.
  • I just looked at a Discussion guide I saw online and I feel like there's so much I missed out on! OK this maybe isn't a criticism of the book (though perhaps some of the things are a bit too subtle) and I should just do a re-read....

I really can't say much at all about the book because there are several major twists, but they are great twists and I recommend reading. With those restrictions in mind, my highlights:

  • The friendship was beautiful. It was so lovely seeing them stick together against the fear and terror they felt.
  • The mentions of sexism - it's strange to call this a highlight because I didn't enjoy it, but it was good to see it addressed. I do wish something had happened to Paul, the groping French Resistance guy.
  • Maddie's love for piloting shone through in the details and the way she talked about it. 
  • There were so many details in general! The author must have done an incredible amount of research. 
  • The French resistance were cool, and a nice symbol of hope.
  • The twists really got me.
  • I cried a little (on the train) but honestly I cry at lots of books and it's easy to cry superficially. More than that, it just really got to me, made me feel sort of hollow and sad. It was worth it to get that insight into the war, though. 
  • The writing is quite beautiful at points. It's not the main star of the show, and mainly just serves to get the story across, but at points there are some gorgeous quotes.
    • It can be a bit over the top sometimes but I guess that's just Julie's voice. She is known for being dramatic. 'Maddie took the top of her egg off. The hot bright yolk was like summer sun breaking through cloud. The first daffodil in the snow. A gold sovereign wrapped in a white silk handkerchief. She dipped her spoon in it and licked it.'

There's a really poignant moment where Julie mourns because the whole reason she started studying German at university was because she loved the language, because she wanted to visit and see the beautiful country - but her knowledge of German instead proved useful to the war effort. and now the Nazi bastards are ruining the beautiful country she loves. 

'I am no longer afraid of getting old. Indeed I can't believe I ever said anything so stupid. So childish. So offensive and arrogantBut mainly, so very, very stupid. I desperately want to grow old.'

It is a terribly sad story - it's war, and no one is left without blood on their hands. It really drove home the horrors of war to me more than a history book ever could. That's what I love about stories; they let you see into different lives. Code Name Verity was great at giving that peek into a different time, and at showing what unthinkable things people will do for their friends.

'We make a sensational team.'

No comments:

Post a Comment