Restless by William Boyd
The setting is Oxford and the year 1976. A magnet for me. I was living in Oxford during the long, hot summer of 1976. Recently I came across a blurb for a historical novel that described that time as wonderful. It wasn’t. It was disconcerting and oppressive; difficult to believe months without rain were following one on another, in England. This is the atmosphere of Restless.
Ruth’s mother, Sally Gilmartin, is handsome, eccentric and emotionally detached, and she lives in the most remote Oxfordshire village imaginable. She cuts her lawn with shears and surveys the woodland at the end of her garden with binoculars. Ruth is not a run-of-the-mill individual herself. Academically brilliant she is resentfully not completing her thesis and spends her days teaching English to foreign students (badly by modern standards) and caring for her five-year-old son, who is the equal in brilliance and eccentricity to both his mother and his grandmother.
Then, on a regular Saturday visit, Ruth finds her mother in a wheelchair, although there appears to be nothing wrong with her.
‘ “I know what you’re thinking, Ruth,” she said. “But you’re wrong, quite wrong.’ She stood up out of her chair, tall and rigid. “Wait a second,” she said, and went upstairs.
“Have you made Granny cross again?” Jochen said, in a low voice, accusingly.
My mother came down the stairs – effortlessly it seemed to me – carrying a thick buff folder under her arm. She held it out for me.
“I’d like you to read this.” ’
And so begins the story of Eva Delectorskaya. It’s a tale of spies and betrayals; of real dangers and presumed ones; of naivety and love coupled with a frightening level of courage and skill. It’s a story about British actions in World War II that you may never have imagined, but you won’t be too surprised when you find out what they were.
As Ruth bumbles over a potential love affair, drinks and smokes too much and regrets her entanglement with Jochen’s father she gets drawn further and further into Eva’s story, even to the extent of seeking the aid of her thesis supervisor.
If you like strong, intelligent, and haunted, female characters, slowly unfolding mysteries and spy-thriller type dramatics, Restless is for you.
There is also a BBC series available on Prime Video.