This is a powerful novel by Helen Dunmore about the effect of the Cold War on one family, thrilling yet subtle. One night in 1960, Simon Callington’s colleague falls and breaks a leg. He rings Simon and asks him to go to his flat, retrieve a document he had taken home from work, and return it to their office. And so begins a tale of official secrets, spies, cover-ups, all told through the prism of this one family, the Callingtons.
This is not a traditional spy novel, there are no car chases or killings, but it is taut with tension and threat felt within the routine domesticity of Callingtons’ home. The impact of Giles’s plea for help, and Simon’s subsequent actions, changes everyone’s lives. They are living in a time of secrets and suspicion. Lily, Simon’s wife, is a German Jew brought to England by her mother before the Second World War. As a child, Lily was taught by her mother to fit in with the English, to hide her foreignness. Her life is one of secrets and covering up, when suddenly it becomes real; her husband is accused of espionage, of passing secrets to the Russians. Lily is convinced he is innocent but her instinct is to protect her children, even though she is unsure who the enemy is.
The story unfolds quickly, alternating between Simon and Lily’s viewpoints while from Giles we learn secrets of which Lily is unaware. And all the time, the three Callington children see and listen and understand more than their mother can expect.
Excellent. Helen Dunmore is a go-to author for me, whose hardback books I buy to keep and re-read.
‘Exposure’ by Helen Dunmore [UK: Hutchinson] Buy now
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