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The City Of Invention

The book reviews of UK children's author, Brian Keaney

Self-Delusion made Credible

Red Joan - Jennie Rooney

At the age of eighty-five Joan Stanley is unmasked as a Cold War spy who passed secrets about the production of the atomic bomb to the Russians. During five days of interrogation by MI5 we share her memories of student life in Cambridge and learn how the intense relationships she formed during that impressionable period drew her inexorably into the world of espionage.

Deeply principled but emotionally vulnerable, Joan believes what she wants to be true about her glamorous Russian friends, ignoring the evidence pointing in the opposite direction, even when it's staring her in the face. Jennie Rooney's achievement is to make this systematic self-delusion entirely credible and at the same time to make her naive and treasonous protagonist sympathetic

'Everyone has a certain view of themselves,' Joan observes, 'of what they would do and what they would not do in any given circumstance, and it is the combination of these choices that makes up a personality...Real life is not that simple. There are endless ambiguities.'

Immensely readable, and often very moving, Red Joan is an unsettling book, suggesting that any of us might have found ourselves in Joan's position and forcing us to consider how we might have behaved.