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The City Of Invention

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

A Mother With A Secret Past

Restless - William Boyd

Set in the nineteen seventies, Restless is the story of two women: Ruth, who lives in Oxford, teaching English to foreign students and avoiding finishing her thesis on Nazi Germany; and Eva, Ruth's mother, whom Ruth had always thought of as a nice middle class English woman but who is actually Russian. The narrative unfolds through the device of Ruth uncovering the details of her mother's work as a spy for British Intelligence during the nineteen thirties and forties.

It's a mixed bag. Eva's character and her story are fast-moving, utterly compelling and written with real verve. Ruth's character and story, on the other hand, are much less engaging. Indeed, some of the elements of Ruth's narrative seem to go nowhere at all. Moreover, while for much of the books the plot seems full of promise, the denoument is disappointing, with a chapter tacked on at the end in which an Oxford don elucidates the bits that the narrative failed to explain sufficiently. Despite these failings, however, it's an entertaining read and an antidote to the glut of under-plotted literary fiction that fill the shelves of so many bookshops.