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Book Review: The Alice Network by Kate Quinn (4/5)

28 Apr

This book club selection got pushed back a few times and we finally had it on the agenda. I’m not sure if we’ll meet to talk about it since there hasn’t been much talk of this group moving to a Zoom meeting, but I wanted to read it just in case.

Cover image via Goodreads

The Alice Network by Kate Quinn

Summary from Goodreads:

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, code name Alice, 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.

I had to stop reading this book in the middle to power through another and it was easy to pick it back up where I’d left off. That’s to say that this story is straight forward, nothing hidden or sneaky in the plot. I liked the back-and-forth between the two timelines and I appreciated how Eve telling Charlie about her time as a spy aligned with the chapters from her point of view later on. It kept me engaged in the two stories at once. My biggest issue with this book is how many pregnant women there were! I wrote a post about literary pregnancies that this book triggered. Charlie’s I understood, another made sense (trying to avoid spoilers) but a third seemed almost unnecessary. Three was a lot for one book in my opinion. I feel like Quinn could have found different found other motivations for her characters.

I liked the main three characters. Finn was hard not to like, same with Eve. They were crude but well-intentioned and good to the bone. Charlie took a while to grow on me. She seemed too submissive at first and it bothered me. It wasn’t until we had the full story of how she dealt with her brother’s death and she made decisions about her future that I got on board with her. And Rene! Oh my, Rene. What an amazing villain. I might have liked him the best/worst of all.

Rene wasn’t your typical war novel villain. He wasn’t a pillaging soldier or military officer. He was a profiteering man who was more inclined to save himself than to stand up for anything else. He was so despicable that you knew you were going to hate him from the moment he was introduced. Eve’s descriptions of him and his penchant for the finer things in life was amazingly terrifying. He was one of the better-drawn villains I’ve encountered lately.

Charlie’s desire to escape from under her parents’ wing was very relatable and I think most women feel that at some point. It may not be 1947 anymore, but being a woman hasn’t changed much. Charlie’s story was sad but I don’t think it’s unusual. I just think it’s hidden better in today’s society. She wanted to rebel yet she was almost swayed to give up her ideas and succumb to her parents again. It was great to see her make a decision for herself in the end.

Kate Quinn
Author image via Goodreads

Eve and Rene’s time during WWI was my favorite to read. It was so twisted and intriguing and you knew it was somehow going to end terribly but you just had to keep reading. Rene made my skin crawl and Eve mentions so many times how she feels the same way. I can’t imagine what it was like to have to spend so much time with him.

Charlie was whiney at the beginning and it was frustrating. She seemed misguided, thinking that her cousin was still alive and being so reckless to get answers. Honestly, she seemed like a spoiled rich girl no matter the problem she had. Mommy and Daddy were going to take care of it like they’d taken care of every other aspect of her life. As the story developed, she became more sympathetic and I started to like her more and more.

Saskia Maarleveld narrated the audiobook and I think she did an amazing job. I didn’t notice at first that Charlie’s chapters had an American accent and Eve’s had a British accent. It took me a while to realize because the transition between the two was so smooth. Her voice for Finn was perfect. I can’t speak to her French or German but she had this non-speaker convinced she knew what she was saying!

Revenge was a big theme in this book and I’m not sure that I liked that aspect of it. Eve wanted her revenge and dragged Charlie into the plot. I think some of the minor themes fit the story better: female friendship and taking control of one’s own future. Unfortunately, the end of the book was very focused on revenge so you’re left with that taste in your mouth. Is it worth it? I’d say no but I think Eve would argue with me. I’m not sure about Charlie. We never see if she feels better after exacting her revenge.

Writer’s Takeaway: Unfortunately, I didn’t feel this book was well balanced. I felt Eve’s story was much more compelling and interesting than Charlie’s. I’m not sure I’d argue that it would have been a better book on its own because the conclusion was satisfying and Charlie was needed for that to happen. But I wonder if Charlie could have been a more compelling character. Especially at the beginning when I disliked her so much.

A good read with just a little lacking. Four out of Five Stars.

Until next time, write on.

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