The Girl Who Fell From The Sky, aka Trapeze

The novel has two titles, The Girl Who Fell From The Sky in the UK and Trapeze in the US. The US title was chosen to avoid confuson with another novel recently published in the United States.

 

Barely out of school and doing her bit for the war effort, Marian Sutro has one quality that marks her out from all the others around her - she is a native French speaker. It is this that attracts the attention of the curious Mr Potter who, one day in 1943, calls her to an interview in an anonymous office in London. In reality Potter is a recruiting officer for SOE, the Special Operations Executive, which trains agents to operate in occupied Europe. So it is that, at the age of 19, Marian finds herself undergoing commando training in the Scottish Highlands, attending a "school for spies" in the New Forest, and ultimately, one autumn night, parachuting from an RAF bomber into the South-West of France to join the WORDSMITH resistance network.

However, there is more to Marian's mission than meets even the all-seeing eyes of the SOE. Before she leaves Britain her mission has been highjacked by an even more secretive and mysterious organisation. For Marian could hold they key to the future of the whole war effort. As a young girl before the war, she was involved with a friend and colleague of her brother, a theoretical physicist called Clément Pelletier. Pelletier was working in Paris under Marie Curie's son-in-law Frédéric Joliot. At that time, the French were world leaders in atomic physics; indeed in 1940, shortly before the German invasion, they actually drew up a secret patent for an atomic bomb. Now, like Joliot himself, Pelletier is still at work in occupied Paris. Can Marian get from the South West of France across the country to the most dangerous city of all, the French capital? And can she persuade Pelletier to join the Allied war effort and spirit him out of France by light aircraft to England?

A fascinating blend of fact and fiction, The Girl Who Fell From the Sky, is both an old-fashioned adventure story and a modern exploration of a young woman's growth into adulthood. There is violence and there is love. There is death and betrayal, deception and revelation. But above all there is Marian Sutro, an ordinary young woman who, like her real-life counterparts in SOE such as Violette Szabo, Nancy Wake or Noor Inayat Khan, did the most extraordinary things at a time when the ordinary was not enough.

 

Hear me on the Diane Rehm Show, NPR, discussing Trapeze

Listen to an ABC radio interview with me, talking about The Girl Who Fell From The Sky and Trapeze

US Reviews...

 

UK reviews:

From the Observer, 16 June 2013

...it's a different animal, swapping the elegant historical sweep of [The Glass Room] for something more streamlined and tautly paced. This is much more of traditional thriller, albeit an intelligent one. We're in Eric Ambler territory here, though William Boyd's Restless also comes to mind.

Mawer manages to evoke a keen sense of place and time while always keeping the pace brisk, the underlying tension high.
Natasha Tripney reviewing the paperback edition.

From New Statesman, 6 June 2012

"The Girl Who Fell from the Sky picks up where [The Glass Room] left off, with a well-drawn heroine (Marian’s voice owes much to Liesel Landauer), beautifully lyrical passages (particularly its descriptions of parachute jumps) and a keen eye for period detail. It is a fine example of that most crowd-pleasing of genres – the literary spy thriller – but, as one would expect from a writer of Mawer’s class, it transcends that genre in its depth, subtlety and style."
Alex Preston

From the Literary Review, May 2012

"Plot and pace never falter and Mawer's prose is pitch-perfect... He has a gift too for inhabiting his characters; Marian's personality... is both plausible and sad. She has to put girlish things away very quickly.

Mawer has master the Buchanesque action novel brilliantly without ever descending into pastiche. This book probably won't make the Man Booker shortlist but you won't be able to put it down."
Linden Burleigh

From the Mail on Sunday, 27 May 2012

"[Mawer's] masterly novel is alpha class: a tour de force that grips and never lets go. Marian Sutro... is little more than a girl when we meet her: clumsy, virginal, innocent of irony. But sent into France on a dangerous undercover mission, she seems to mature by the second as she is tested in the crucible of war. Every detail rings true, right up to the heart-rending finale."

From the Financial Times, 26 May 2012

"...[The Girl Who Fell From The Sky] sets out to do economically, elegantly, smartly, often beautifully, and what it means to do, mostly, is entertain... There are many shades of Graham Greene here, a master not above classifying a whole genre of his fiction – Brighton Rock, Stamboul Train, The Third Man – as “entertainments”; after all, they were some of the most gripping, least overwrought pieces of writing Greene ever produced.

Girl delivers its story with the same delicate, stropped-razor deadliness that creeps up on you like Harry Lime in the shadows, nastily irresistible. Like the Greenes, Girl seems self-consciously begging to be filmed and none the worse for it. It abounds with scenic loaded atmospherics...

The plot is what it is. In truth: not a whole lot. But you won’t care because pretty much everything else about the book is so winning. Marian herself is completely convincing in her headstrong arrogance, her impulsiveness, the wiring of a sharp intelligence to a directionless but yearning heart...

...Mawer’s great gift is for the sudden hit of unlikely but sharply focused observation... The great moments of the book – and there are many – are when the ostensible action stirs Mawer to a flight of imagining that channels pure literary adrenaline into making visible and audible, not just the concrete moment, but its bigger implications, higher, deeper, stronger. This is why Mawer is a genuinely great contemporary writer and why his entertainments, probably even his shopping lists for all I know, make for such rewarding reading..."
Simon Schama

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From the Sunday Telegraph, 20 May 2012

"...a persuasive, exhilarating thriller... [in Paris] any Buchanesque bravado vanishes, with Marian living less by ingenuity than her wits in a dehumanised city... in the end it is...intense exultation and a kind of ambivalent fatalism that impels Marian."
Catherine Taylor

From the Daily Telegraph, 19 May 2012

"A key image comes at the very beginning of the book as our heroine, Marian Sutro is about to plummet down into France to begin her mission. She sees the dispatcher as “a kind of Charon”, guarding the entrance to the underworld. And so it proves, as she must now live a strange half-life, in the shadows, as thin and insubstantial as the hungry ghosts of Hades.

Another important trope is Alice in Wonderland – Sutro even takes the name Alice as one of her aliases – as she topples into a land where all sense has disappeared, where she must live by codes and signs. Underlying everything are the motifs of two games: piggy in the middle, with Sutro as the helpless “piggy”; and Kriegspiel, a form of chess in which you can see only your own pieces. Everybody is fumbling in the dark – but at the same time, it’s also just a game. It’s a sinister idea.

Mawer’s writing, as one would expect, is smoothly sophisticated. The qualities of a spy are not necessarily those that you would find attractive in a protagonist, but Mawer gives us some compelling insights into Sutro – above all, her bravery, and her almost elemental need for risk...

[His] book is slick and thrilling and grown-up, like a slightly seedy uncle who smokes, drinks whisky and is always off seeing a man about a dog. ...an absorbing novel full of treachery, twilight and terror."
Philip Womack

From the Independent on Sunday, 5 May 2012

"Mawer's writing is as elegant and accomplished... and his research is exemplary. The rigorous field training is fascinating, not only in armed and unarmed combat but in the enigmatic activities of the secret agent... (his) occupied Paris is grimly atmospheric, tense, shrunken and rendered dingy by fear and hardship...

There is striking imagery: 'Children flock out of a school like starlings in their black smocks, laughing and chattering.' Emotions are viscerally convincing: terror is 'like a disease, a growth, thick and putrid, wedged behind her breastbone'... a terse, gripping thriller that is faultlessly written..."
Leyla Sanai

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From The Scotsman, 4 May 2012

"...The evocation of this diminished and frightening Paris is masterly; I can’t think it could have been better done... Mawer cranks up the tension; as spy stuff this is as good as Le Carré or Eric Ambler, no higher praise possible. Nothing is overdone. Details and description serve the double purpose of advancing the narrative and deepening the dark mood.

I have rarely read a novel that made fear so acute, almost tangible. As a reader I was gripped; as a novelist who has written about this period, I was admiring and envious. When the tension is broken with violent action, it seems absolutely right.

It should also be said that Mawer fully understands and explores the complexity of twisted loyalties at a time when almost nothing was simple or straightforward.

The ending is sudden and shocking, perhaps, one may, somewhat resentfully feel, too sudden and too shocking. But that’s how things were then, in those dark years and dark places. There is admittedly a touch of improbability about the way it comes about, but then this was a time when the improbable came all too often.

Simon Mawer has written a novel of high intelligence and creative imagination, strong in plot and wonderfully atmospheric. It is, I think, even better than his last, The Glass Room, which was shortlisted for the Booker and Walter Scott prizes. If you don’t read another novel this year, read this one. Mawer’s Paris is in the Simenon class."
Allan Massie

From the Guardian/Observer, 4 May 2012

"The Girl Who Fell From the Sky is a less capacious, less thoughtful book than The Glass Room... But who cares, really? It is so beautifully done.

...I cannot fault his story-telling; I read late into the night and cried a little when I was done. Mawer's wartime textures are extraordinary, and no page ever reeks of the library; his set pieces are so beautiful you want to read them two or three times over. He writes about fear and about bravery better than any contemporary novelist I know; such is his precision, he seems more cartographer than novelist at times.

And then there is hope, which runs through this novel like a cold, fast-flowing river... For Mawer, hope is as numinous as faith, and twice as powerful – and, like Marian, you apprehend its loss even as the strange ecstasy of it drives you on."
Rachel Cooke

From the Evening Standard, 3 May 2012

"Simon Mawer is an elegant writer and a meticulous researcher, and The Girl Who Fell From The Sky reflects these qualities. It combines a stirring adventure with a potent reflection on the allure of desire, duty and danger."
Jane Shilling

From the Spectator, 3 May 2012

"Mawer is a masterful storyteller. He knows exactly when to quicken the pace, exactly when to suspend the critical moment. His description of France during the Occupation is utterly convincing, from the farmland that serves as the parachute landing pad, to the intricacies of the 5th arrondissement...

Mawer sketches with admirable subtlety why it is that [Marian] is worth her salt. But is war the making or breaking of her? An outspoken twenty year-old becomes less and less certain of who she is, of what she wants...

...amid the escalating drama ... it is increasingly difficult to stand aloof from Marian’s story; in a metaphor Mawer would relish, one tumbles after her down the rabbit hole. Gripping and moving in equal measure, his story, Marian’s story, is unforgettable."
Daisy Dunn

From the Sunday Times, 29 April 2012

"Simon Mawer is a novelist who likes crossing boundaries. Cosmopolitan, culturally versatile, he sets his fiction in many countries, often moving between past and present. He also subverts the traditional divide between literature and science and flouts the ill-defined but well-guarded frontier between literary and popular fiction…

The sections describing Marian’s training follow a familiar pattern for spy novels… more original are the sections that explore Marian’s position as a spy. A young woman in a lethal world, she exploits her physical attributes, but is also prone to embarrassment, reversion to a younger self. What indeed is her identity? Her brother calls her “Squirrel”; for the resistance she is Alice, then Anne-Marie, then Laurence. In each role she finds fresh resources, yet is buffeted by unruly emotions. Arguably, the novel is more effective as a coming-of-age story than a thriller. Mawer can certainly do suspense but ultimately the plot is less compelling than the heroine’s psychology. It is that, plus the vivid phrasing (swastikas coloured like “sealing-wax and boot polish”; parachutes settling “like a ballerina’s skirt”) that allows the author, like a spy crossing borders, to transcend the limits of genre."
David Grylls


From the Times, 28 April 2012

"Passion plus danger — what could be more thrilling? A dark, pacey tribute to the 50 heroines who made the same jump in real life."
Kate Saunders

 

From the Daily Mail, 26 April 2012

" Where his last Booker-shortlisted novel, The Glass Room, gave an expanisve overview of a whole country over the course of 50 years, Mawer’s latest is a more intense and tightly-focused story. Radiating an atmosphere of tense suspicion and claustrophobia, it is utterly gripping from start to finish."
Amber Pearson

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Trapeze - US Reviews

Published by Other Press, May 2012

From the New Yorker, 10 September 2012

“In this enthralling spy novel, Marian, a young Englishwoman, is sent on a secret mission to Vichy France... The book is full of the fascinating minutiae of espionage – aircraft drops, double agents, scrambled radio messages... Mawer exhibits a great feeling for suspense, and produces memorable episodes in dark alleyways, deserted cafés, and shadowy corners of Père Lachaise.”
Briefly Noted

From the New York Times, 10 August 2012

"Spiky banter and character shadings... whoosh by at such velocity that... you’re left dangling at the denouement in cliffhanger purgatory, waiting for the sequel."
Jan Stuart

From the Washington Post, 11 June 2012

“...a stark, focused adventure. It moves swiftly from Marian Sutro’s recruitment as an undercover operative during World War II through her training and her dangerous mission in France to a cliffhanging climax in a train station that ought to have a neon sign flashing 'Sequel This Way.'

...Although narrower in scope than Mawer’s earlier work, it is no less rich and provocative. And in Marian he has created a marvelous heroine, called by circumstance to a life she was born for."
Wendy Smith

From the Seattle Times, 3 June 2012

In a perfect combination of intrigue, romance, betrayal and incredible bravery, Mawer has, once again, as he did in "The Glass Room," told a story that is factual and fictional with the edges blurred just so. The ending is a snapper, totally unexpected, but do not despair: The publisher promises a sequel.
Valerie Ryan

From the Columbus Dispatch, 27 May 2012

“...finely wrought... Readers will be stunned as they read the final pages of this fast-paced and exhilarating historical novel about a young woman’s path to maturity.”
Jenny Lyons

From Booklist, Starred Review, 1 May 2012

Much-lauded British author Mawer vividly describes the deprivations in a waroccupied country and its once-vibrant capital and provides testimony to the courage of countless members of the French Resistance. But this is primarily a masterfully crafted homage to the 53 extraordinary women of the French section of the SOE on whose actual exploits the novel is based. With its lyrical yet spare prose and heart-pounding climax, this is a compelling historical thriller of the highest order.

From The Daily Beast, 30 April 2012

Like the best historical fiction, the book is very much of its intended time, full of clandestine tidbits and Churchillian attitude, but not to the exclusion of the human elements that are required of any compelling story. And although the narrative cleaves tightly enough to the realm of possibility, it is also so full of adventure as to be an almost J.K. Rowling–escapist fantasy, with spies replacing wizards. What teenager couldn’t daydream about being plucked from her ordinary life, told that she had special desirable skills, and dropped into the unknown in order to liberate her homeland from history’s most hated heels?

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The Girl Who Fell From The Sky, Abacus paperback, May 2013

Read the first chapter

The Girl Who Fell From The Sky, Little, Brown UK

Trapeze, Other Press US

 

Simon Mawer 2008 - 2022. This website is written and maintained by the author.