The Alice Network, Kate Quinn, author; Saskia Maarleveld, narrator
The novel tells two parallel stories. One begins in 1915, and is about a real network of agents who worked for Alice Dubois, whose real name was Louise de Bettignies. She really did run a spy network from France, for the British, during WWI. The second story begins just after WWII, in 1947. Charlotte St. Clair is a well-to-do young college student who was travelling to Europe with her mother to take care of her “little problem”. While at Bennington College, after the death of her brother, she floundered, lost her moral compass and found herself pregnant. While in Europe, her mother had promised to help her search for her friend and cousin, Rose Fournier. Rose had fallen in love with a resistance fighter, Etienne. She too had been pregnant. Etienne was arrested and acontact with Rose was lost. Charlotte (Charlie), was determined to find and save her. After the war, when Charlotte’s brother James had been severely injured, causing him to lose a limb, she had been unable to prevent his suicide. She felt that she had failed him and now hoped that she could at least find Rose, and save her. When her mother reneged on her promise to help her, Charlotte ran away. She left, before her procedure, in order to find Rose by herself.
Her search took her to a woman named Evelyn Gardiner, who turned out to be one of the spies in the Alice Network, during WWI. During that time, the agent, Evelyn, known as Marguerite, had worked in a restaurant called Le Lethe, run by a collaborator named, René Bordelou, in order to overhear information from the patrons and then pass it on to Alice Dubois. Coincidentally, decades later, Rose, in her early twenties, had worked in a restaurant with the same name, but in a different location. Could this other restaurant be owned by the same brutal collaborator? Could he still be alive? He would be in his early seventies by now. Evelyn was now in her mid fifties. The scars of her wartime effort and her work with René, had damaged her, and she often had nightmares and used liquor to escape her painful memories. Charlotte was still in her teens, although of legal age, but seemed older and more assertive than women of that time period. As the story reveals itself, both Eve and Charlotte discover they have a common connection and a mutual desire for revenge. Together, with the help of Finn Kilgore, Evelyn’s handsome houseman, who is also her driver, they begin to search for this restaurant and its owner, René, if he is still there. Although the youngest, Charlotte is in charge.
The threads of the stories intersect in several places, not only with the owner of the restaurant, but with the unwanted pregnancies of several of the women, and with the thread of alcohol abuse, nightmares, suicides, uncontrolled anger, and handsome Scotsmen with prison records.
I found the spy portion of the story based on the true history of the Alice Network very interesting, especially when it focused on the courage of the characters, even when, at times, it seemed implausible. However, I also found that when it devolved into nothing more than a romance novel, I was disappointed. It seemed to turn a story about the courageous victims of unjust wars and the evil, brutal men who start them, into nothing more than a fairy tale. Somehow, it seemed incongruous to have such a trite story overlaying a story of courage and sacrifice.