Saturday, April 13, 2013

Kiss me Hardy!

Oh my goodness, Code Name Verity is a good book! I read it last fall -- and in my jottings to myself about it I said that I thought it would be a great audiobook.  When it came up honor-worthy for the Printz this year, it just seemed right to try and give it a listen. Hooray for interlibrary loan! For those who have (eye or ear) read this book, its shocking twists make it the perfect candidate to revisit. Knowing the ending gives you the opportunity to listen for all the clues (and to dread it all over again).

It is so deliciously complex, but I shall attempt a synopsis without spoilers.  Elizabeth Wein's novel tells the World War II story of two young British women, Julie and Maddie. Just before the war began, Maddie -- a working class girl with a mechanical mind -- was learning how to fly.  Julie -- a Scottish aristocrat, with a French grandmother and educated in Switzerland -- had a raft of language and other talents.  Both decide to join the women's military services, and both are soon deployed to areas that will use their talents to their full potential:  Julie to the Special Operations Executive and Maddie to the Women's Auxiliary Air Force. They first meet before either has their final assignment when Julie fools a German pilot into safely landing his plane. They become fast friends.

Maddie doesn't see Julie much as she prepares for an important mission in France, but -- when Julie needs a pilot to take her across the Channel, Maddie is there. And from this point, things start to go terribly wrong.

But I'm telling it in the wrong order.  We learn about Julie and Maddie in flashbacks, because Julie (now Verity) made a rookie mistake on her first day in France -- she looked the wrong way before crossing the street.  She is now a prisoner of SS-Hauptsturmfuhrer von Linden in a former hotel/now prison in the small French town of Ormaie and she has agreed to tell him everything, if only he will bring her her clothes and stop the torture. Maddie died in the plane crash; von Linden has made sure she saw the pictures.

And that is quite enough of that.

I love World War II spy novels (Alan Furst, anyone?). I loved these girls and their tight friendship. I loved the intrigue and the almost unbearable uncertainty that was sustained for almost the entire novel. (It's a novel for young adults, right? Everything will turn out OK, right?)  Wein's characterizations are of people you want to know and of places you want to be. When Maddie visits Julie's brother in the family's drafty castle in Scotland, I was ready to pack my bags. And ultimately, I wanted to read it again (which is something I almost never, ever do).

The audiobook is narrated by two readers, Morven Christie narrates the first part of the book -- Julie's confession -- and (this is a teeny, but unavoidable spoiler) Lucy Gaskell takes over the conclusion, with Maddie's story. Christie is brilliant. We hear Julie's fear and her pain and her defiance and her anger ("I'm Scottish, dammit!") in her voice. She creates plenty of realistic characters, including the several roles that Julie plays. I loved listening to the Scots burr come and go and each time it was a deliberate choice.  She gives Maddie a slight tinge of a working class accent.  And Christie sings, beautifully.

There is a letdown when Gaskell takes over the narrative duties, because ... well, because she's just not as good as Christie. She's at a bit of a disadvantage from the outset because she doesn't sound like the Maddie that Christie created and that is the person I kept wanting to hear. But Gaskell just doesn't have the breadth and consistency that Christie does with the novel's characters, not even her own. While she does have a grasp of Maddie's emotions as she tells her story, her accent comes and goes. In her defense, Maddie's story simply isn't as interesting as Julie's, she's not the same kind of storyteller. Regardless, as the novel concluded, I was crying ... again.

Don't read the origin of the post title phrase until you've read the book.   It will break your heart.

The audiobook concludes with a debriefing with Wein (pronounced "wean" [and mispronounced "vine" in the audiobook]), who is a pilot herself. I'm pretty sure that this is in the print version, as well.  She reads it clearly, except for sounding as if she is in a tunnel.  I like her work: Previously, I'd read her alternative Arthur cycle (she calls it The Lion Hunters and I'm not sure if I ever read the fifth one) and enjoyed them, and oh my ... she's got another WWII/WAAF novel (which takes place where Julie was fated to be deported ... oh no!) due in the fall. Must keep up!

[Maddie and Julie probably saw this poster hanging in the pub. It is in the public domain and was retrieved from Wikimedia Commons.]

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein
Narrated by Morven Christie and Lucy Gaskell
Bolinda Audio, 2012.  10:07

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