Restless by William Boyd – a review
I read William Boyd years ago, probably before he published his first novel, when his stories were published in The London Magazine. He was one of those guys who were going to be the next big thing.
He has now published eight novels and is widely regarded as one of the UK’s major novelists, being particularly recognised as a writer with a robust narrative muscle. Restless confirms this impression:
Mason Harding tried to kiss her on Moday evening. After their meeting – “Still no Harry, I’m afraid” – they had gone back to his bar and he had drunk too much. Coming out, it had been raining and they had waited under a shop awning until the brisk shower passed over. As the rain abated, they dashed for his car. She thought it was a little strange that he combed his hair before starting the engine and driving her back to the London Hall. It was while they were making their farewells that he lunged at her and, averting her face just in time, she felt his lips on her cheek, her jaw, her neck.”
Mason! For God’s sake.” She pushed him away.
He recoiled and sat glowering, staring at the steering wheel. “I’m very attracted to you, Eve,” he said, in a strangely sulky voice, not looking at her, as if this were all the explanation she required.
“I’m sure your wife is very attracted to you, also.”
He sighed and his body sagged in mock fatigue, as if this was a tired and over-familiar rebuke.
Eve is a British spy in America during the early years of the second world war. She is part of the team who were there to convince the American government to enter the war against Hitler’s Germany.
They were charged with the task of planting pro British and Anti German articles in the American media and, in fact, using any means they thought fit to bring America into the war on the side of the UK and Russia. In the event, the Japanese did this job entirely on their own when they attacked Pearl Harbour.
Within the narrative of Restless, Boyd takes us through the conscripting of Eve into the intelligence services, we witness her training and the burial of her past and emergence of her new identities.
By the time her last mission to Mexico begins to go very badly wrong, we have developed a lot of empathy for the woman and the tensions in the story, for this reader at least, had me literally on the edge of my seat.
This is le Carre territory and, although it is often done badly by some writers, actually comes with a high pedigree. In Restless, William Boyd shows us that he is equal to the task.