The Alice Network by Kate Quinn
Publisher: William Morrow
Published: June 2017
Genre: historical fiction
1947. In the chaotic aftermath of World War II, American college girl Charlie St. Clair is pregnant, unmarried, and on the verge of being thrown out of her very proper family. She’s also nursing a desperate hope that her beloved cousin Rose, who disappeared in Nazi-occupied France during the war, might still be alive. So when Charlie’s parents banish her to Europe to have her “little problem” taken care of, Charlie breaks free and heads to London, determined to find out what happened to the cousin she loves like a sister.
1915. A year into the Great War, Eve Gardiner burns to join the fight against the Germans and unexpectedly gets her chance when she’s recruited to work as a spy. Sent into enemy-occupied France, she’s trained by the mesmerizing Lili, the “Queen of Spies”, who manages a vast network of secret agents right under the enemy’s nose.
Thirty years later, haunted by the betrayal that ultimately tore apart the Alice Network, Eve spends her days drunk and secluded in her crumbling London house. Until a young American barges in uttering a name Eve hasn’t heard in decades, and launches them both on a mission to find the truth …no matter where it leads.
Eve Gardiner’s stutter has held her back for ages. Everyone assumes she’s a half-wit — except for one man who can tell she’s sharp, cunning, and intelligent. She’s recruited to work as a spy in a restaurant run by a collaborator in France, and trained alongside Lili, who manages an entire network of secret agents. Thirty years later, Charlie St. Clair is on a mission to find her missing cousin, and runs away from her mother and their travel plans to get rid of her Little Problem in Switzerland. Recruiting Eve’s assistance, Eve and Charlie work together to find Charlie’s cousin, come to the truth of the disbanding of the Alice Network, and seek revenge on the man who brought these ladies together across the years.
All the stars. All the awards. I haven’t read historical fiction like this in a long time. The voice, the plot, the structure, the characters…oh my goodness.
Quinn’s novel is written in parallel narratives across two timelines and in two perspectives. That, I think, is what kept the pages turning and the investment in the characters so deep. There are several parallels between the two wars already, so writing Eve’s storyline in third person and Charlie’s in first person helped differentiate the stories. Eve was also such a firecracker, and Charlie was breaking out of her socialite shell and into who she really is. These women were ahead of their time, and all it took was support and confidence from another encouraging person to help them become their true selves.
Eve is intelligent and cunning, and utilized her stutter in such a brilliant way as she spied on the German patrons of her creepy boss’s restaurant. The things she went through to pass on messages to Lili and Uncle Edward (the code names of her spy network’s superiors) is just…remarkable. And frightening. To know that so many women in history were spies and did these things and experienced this is just mind-boggling. I cried. Quite often.
Charlie is a brilliant mathematician, but no one will take her seriously as a single woman. She’s constantly thwarted in her efforts without a husband by her side. After meeting Eve and working alongside her in her mission to find her beloved cousin, Charlie musters up the courage to forge her own path in life, consequences, leaps of faith, and all.
What struck me most about this novel was the power of female bonds. So many fierce women are in here, and while they do not all get along with one another, they understand how difficult it is (especially in this time in history) to simply live life as a woman. The consequences of speaking one’s mind or standing up for oneself, dealing with abuse or torture or pregnancy, and being used or abandoned are some of the issues all women faced. Women, in history and now, understand this unspoken bond of sisterhood through adversity. It was powerful. This novel made it all the more moving.
If you love WWI and WWII stories about fierce women facing all sorts of hardship and adversity and rising above it all, this is for you.