The Alice Network
by Kate Quinn
Release Date: June 6, 2017
Pages: 520 [paperback]
Two women meet in England, 1947: one of them a former WWI spy and the other a runaway pregnant socialite.
Charlie St. Clair is the daughter of wealthy socialites in New York, 1947. She is unmarried and pregnant. In other words, she is an absolute disgrace to her parents. Her mother whisks her off to England to fix the “little problem”. It is similarly a disappointment to Charlie, who was enjoying her freedom at university studying mathematics and dreaming about her future career.
In the aftermath of WWII, Charlie’s cousin and fondest childhood friend, Rose, has been missing and presumed dead since 1944. Once abroad, she abandons her mother in a hotel in hopes of finding the answers she desperately needs. Charlie has a single lead, the name and address of an Evelyn Gardiner.
Eve greets Charlie with whiskey on her breath and a gun in hand. She is an old, haggard drunk living in London… but she is also a former WWI spy. Connections between Eve’s past and what might have happened to Rose quickly become evident.
So the journey begins with two headstrong women and a Scottish ex-convict driver traveling to France in an old Lagonda convertible…
“I wasn’t sure exactly what had pulled the three of us together, or why it had turned out we were all chasing some variant of the same thing: legacies left by lost women in past wars. I didn’t have a destination anymore, or a goal at the end of this road, but we were headed somewhere and I wasn’t ready to abandon the journey” (355).
This historical novel is utterly fascinating. The story tells two tales, eloquently alternating between 1915 and 1947; between a WWI female spy network and a pregnant college student looking for her cousin. One of the female spies, Louise de Bettignies or Alice Dubois is actually based on a real woman!
The plot seems to drag about halfway through – but I found that it accurately conveyed the sufferings, patience, and dangers of war. In an wartime era without advanced technology, the lengthy measures to communicate were well-represented.
As for characters, there are several strong-willed, admirable heroines. This book certainly stands for women’s empowerment. As for the female spies, they all wanted to fight for their countries. Based on their gender, they were not allowed. Then there is Charlie, who just wants to study calculus and further her career, but her mother expects her to find a good husband and have children. I adored every single heroine in The Alice Network and hope to see more characters like them in books to come.
“‘There is no job that gives satisfaction like spying. Mothers will tell you children are the most satisfying of all vocations, but merde,’ Lili said frankly, ‘they’re too dulled by never-ending routine to know better. I will take the risk of bullets over the certainly of soiled nappies any day'” (127).