Saturday 14 September 2013

Red Joan

Finished September 14
Red Joan by Jennie Rooney

This novel was inspired by the discovery of Melita Norwood as a Soviet spy in Cold War Britain years after her work as a spy, at the age of eighty-seven. Other than working at a similar job, the similaries between the real woman and Rooney's creation, Joan, are non-existent. Rooney took the idea of a female spy being discovered years later and wrote a most interesting story around it.
The book begins with MI5 showing up at Joan's door, and her past is gradually revealed through the questioning and her own private reflections during the five days of interrogation.
Joan is a young woman unsure of her own self, eager to be accepted, eager to be loved, and yet with an intelligent mind that won't succumb to illogic except under extreme emotion. Joan loves science, the research and this sense of discovery. She is drawn through friendship into communist meetings while at university, and while her questioning mind won't simply accept what she is told, she also has a sense of justice.
It is that sense of justice that drives her actions in terms of her spying activities, not her interest in the cause of communism.
This book is really two stories, the story of Joan's youth and her actions during her university days, World War II, and the start of the Cold War, and the story of her discovery decades later and how she reacts to that. She is a very interesting character. And I liked that Canada had a very small presence in the book as well.