Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Review: The Spy Who Loved

The Spy Who Loved: The Secrets and Lives of Christine Granville
By Clare Mulley
St. Martin's Press June 2013
426 pages
From the library 

The Spy Who Loved: The Secrets and Lives of Christine Granville

Christine Granville was an incredible person. When the Germans invaded her native Poland, Christine was out of the country. She could not return to her home, so she appealed to the British. She convinced the Brits to allow her to work as one of their spies and so she became the first female British Special Agent during WWII. Christine was desperate to make a difference for her country, for her people, and for a vital cause. She skied across borders, carried classified information right under the noses of the enemy, and managed to save colleagues mere hours before they were scheduled to be executed.

I learned a lot from reading this book, but found reading it to be somewhat tedious. Christine Granville is obviously a fascinating person, but I think Mulley was doomed to run into some problems with Christine as her subject. Firstly, it's difficult to write a book about a spy. Sources are limited and, as Mulley points out throughout the book, Christine and her compatriots lied often. The second problem, which Mulley also acknowledges, is that Christine was loved by many people. After her death, many of her friends and lovers ensured that only a certain version of Christine remained - one that put her in a positive light. As I read through this book, I often felt that I was engaging with a set of facts instead of an actual person with a personality and quirks.

While Christine's war time exploits are straight out of a spy movie (which explains why she may have inspired a James Bond character), the most interesting part of the book deals with Christine after the war. She was a woman who wanted to live life a certain way and was unwilling to make compromises. She was opinionated and felt no shame about her many lovers or using her feminine wiles to achieve her goals. Although she was a highly decorated and highly valuable asset during the war, Christine was not given a continued job with the government, she was denied British citizenship, and ultimately ended up taking occasional jobs as a maid on a ship. Ms. Mulley really captures Christine's frustration and outrage at not being able to do the work she loved because of societal judgement.  After risking her life, she was discarded by Britain and Poland. There was no place for a woman like Christine.

The Spy Who Loved is a big biography and it can seem like a great undertaking. But the research that went into this book is meticulous and Mulley's desire to share this woman's remarkable story is evident on each page. When you finish reading a biography, you know it was a success if you feel that you have learned about the life of a single person and about the world in which they lived. Ms. Mulley has achieved both of these things in The Spy Who Loved. 

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