I have to say I do love historical fiction and I am a sucker for a good romance story / feel good story intertwined with the intrigues and suspense that a war setting provides.... So definitely this was an easy read for me. The most powerful thing about this novel is that it's centered around strong women and their essential role in the First World War. The books presents Eve's story, the main character, during WWI and after the Second World War and how her story is connected to the other main character (also a woman) Charlie. Both of these women are affected in a way or another by war, and they go on a chase to find the profiteer who Eve worked for in order to get information about the war. This chase for information happens in 1947 and parallel to that we get the story of Eve, how she became a spy and her important role as part of the "Alice Network". We also meet other strong heroines, Alice and Violette.
When I started reading this book I knew it was historical fiction, but I didn't know how much of it was real and how much was ficticios, so I strongly suggest to read the WHOLE book, especially the notes of the author at the end. Once I did that I realized that this network actually existed and the amazing strong woman in the book gave me a new sense of pride. Throughout the book we are constantly reminded of the double standards of society not only for women spies, but also for any woman living at the time... things like being unable to get their own money from the bank without a husband or father, being looked down and shamed for being pregnant without a husband, going to college just to get hitched (so grades didn't mattered), and so on... but, the book also highlights how much more difficult it was for these spies to survive and how resilient women were.
There is a wonderful quote at the end of the book in the author's notes that exemplifies this best: «The female spies of World War I are largely forgotten today. As much as their contributions during the war were appreciated, there was a certain unease with how to treat them afterward. Women who entered the active zone of combat were generally viewed by the public in one of two ways: as females who shed all womanliness and became hardened and mannish thanks to the dangers of war, or as gallant little women forced by duty to take up dangerous burdens, but still fragile flowers at heart.»
It's a shame that as a society we undermine the wonderful accomplishments of women who have risked their lives to protect peace just because of their sex. For me, this book is proof, once again, that there are a lot of stories not being told because those who decide what it's shared or not with the world are men.
I think this is a great book to teach at schools, especially to empower women and give a different perspective of history. I don't teach history, so I wouldn't know how to incorporate this into it, but the author does mention using the book "Le Guerre des Femmes" as a main source of information. This book is written by Violette's husband, retelling all the stories Violette told him about the real Alice Network and I think it could be very useful to incorporate that as a different perspective about the war. It would be great to compare a man's and a woman's perspective and talk about why some of these stories about the important role of women during the war are never told.
So... now that I have finished my overall review of the book, let me tell you why I thought this was an interesting pick for Reese Witherspoon... I am not sure if you have seen her whole speech about how in most films there is a scene where the woman looks at the man and says "Now what do we do?"... and Reese explicitly condemns this kind of writing because, as she says, women always know what to do, and even when they don't they take action, they are never hopeless left at the mercy of what the men decides to do... so, when I read that specific line in this book it reminded me of that speech. It just didn't fit with the character of Charlie (who had just been told by her lover that she was a strong and brave woman)... I know it was one line, but it took me out of the moment and to be honest it wasn't only this line. There were come parts in the book where the description of the scene just didn't make sense to me... this might be something completely persona, but I am a visual reader. I need to be able to visualize in my mind what I am reading as if I was looking at a movie, and not being able to do that with the descriptive writing in some scenes made it difficult for me to follow and threw me off .
I do have to say I recommend this book. I think it touches upon very important subject in regards to women's role in society back then and now... there are a lot of things that are mentioned that still happen and are still taboo. So... I hope you pick up this book and enjoy it as much as I did...
Welcome to Jime's Book Club. Each month I read a different novel and I write about it. Some of these novels are great for the classroom and, if they are, I will give you tons of tips on how to incorporate them in your classroom. If they are not, I will tell you not to use them!