Friday 31 May 2013

Code Name Verity Review

Synopsis from Goodreads: I have two weeks. You'll shoot me at the end no matter what I do. 
That's what you do to enemy agents. It's what we do to enemy agents. But I look at all the dark and twisted roads ahead and cooperation is the easy way out. Possibly the only way out for a girl caught red-handed doing dirty work like mine - and I will do anything, anything, to avoid SS-Hauptsturmführer von Linden interrogating me again. 
He has said that I can have as much paper as I need. All I have to do is cough up everything I can remember about the British War Effort. And I'm going to. But the story of how I came to be here starts with my friend Maddie. She is the pilot who flew me into France - an Allied Invasion of Two. 
We are a sensational team.

I adored this book. I. Adored. It. 

There's something about the 1940s that I find fascinating and everything I find fascinating about it is contained in this touching story of friendship. Maddie, a young working class woman who likes riding her Silent Superb and fixing things, joins the ATA as a pilot (ferrying aircraft and RAF personnel up and down the country when needed) and becomes friends with Queenie, a young upper class woman working as a 'wireless operator'. Their paths cross when they are suddenly instructed to guide a lost Luftwaffe pilot (he mistakes the River Thames estuary for the Channel) to land at their RAF airbase; Maddie utilising her navigation skills and Queenie her fluent German.
From that moment on they make a 'sensational team'.

Two strong women who, during peacetime, would probably never have met. This is what I like so much about this era; how the war brought people from all walks of life together. They forge a close bond and as Queenie recalls:

"It's like being in love, discovering your best friend." ~ p.88

In fact, this is the tagline of the book for me and I often find myself saying it in a clipped '40s accent when I am gazing wistfully through book-glazed eyes in a face-in-hands story-induced meditative state. I think of their friendship and sigh. I once had a twin-flame, best mucker connection like that...

The first half of the story is Queenie's account of her friendship with Maddie and the events that led to her capture by the Nazis. The second half covers the same time frame but from Maddie's perspective. An interesting structure. Expect irony and twists in what is a riveting plot.

I was told to arm myself with tissues whilst reading Code Name Verity, but unfortunately, and much to my amazement, they were not needed. However all is not lost: I was dry-eyed throughout my first reading of To Kill a Mockingbird, but a blubbering mess on the second devourment (if that isn't a word, it is now !) of the novel. And things happen during the second half of the story that shed new light on the first, thus the need to flick back to the start is established and, like Maddie, I'm more than happy to relive Maddie and Queenie's friendship again. 

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


I absolutely loved picturing Maddie flying the Lysanders up and down the country. I have a fascination with Second World War planes. 

Lysanders in actionSource

Even though I am not comfortable as a passenger, I am in awe of pilots and planes. I was halfway through the book when our country celebrated the 70th anniversary of the Dambusters raid. I watched a TV programme to commemorate the amazing feat and it helped bring Code Name Verity even more alive to me. Eight weeks training to do what they did, those Lancaster bomber pilots. And at night too. I have nothing but admiration for those who served during and experienced the war. What courage!

And then on the evening of the anniversary I read this...

"A great big wonderful waxing bomber's moon was rising just as she arrived at the pick-up airfield, and Maddie landed just before the local squadron took off. She taxied to the Operations hut as the brand-new Lancasters were leaving. The demure Puss Moth shuddered in the wind of their passing, like a marsh hen among a flock of grey herons - each thrice her wingspan, each with four times as many engines, heavy with the night's fuel and payload of explosive, off to deliver vengeful destruction to Essen's factories and railway yards." ~ p.193

... and imagined Maddie was passing the mighty Dambusters. What beautiful use of a simile; I felt engulfed by and in awe of the powerful Lancasters.

Another fantastic simile that struck me as beautiful:

"Maddie took the top of her egg off with her spoon.The hot, bright yolk was like a summer sun breaking through cloud, the first daffodil in the snow, a gold sovereign wrapped in a white silk handkerchief." ~ p.161

Wein's writing oozes with deliciousness throughout the novel. The mundane action of eating an egg turned into beautiful, arresting imagery. Because it did arrest me. Visualising sun breaking through cloud made me sit bolt upright and take notice. A simple yet powerful line, I relished the prospect of savouring the humble, yet heavily rationed, egg. 

Another thing I liked was the Aerodrome Drop-Off Principle. Was this a real WW2 concept? I have no idea but I like this notion of paying it forward, of random acts of kindness. 

I can't wait to read this book again and I hope, hope, hope it is adapted to film so I can see Queenie's immaculate blonde chignon and effortless style in action. And I want to see Maddie's Silent Superb and Dympna's Puss Moth. Incredible ladies.

Finally, a treat for those of you who've read the story:

Glynis's Rating:


  1. Another to add to the growing tbr pile!!!

  2. Oh definitely read it. A wonderful story, makes me feel gooey inside thinking of their friendship.