Tightrope - US Reviews

Minneapolis Star Tribune, 19/12/2015

Simon Mawer's new novel, "Tightrope" is a follow-up to his last one, "Trapeze" (2012), and continues the daring acrobatics of his wonderfully drawn Anglo-French spy, Marion Sutro.

British-born Mawer has excelled with another tangled, character-led literary thriller. His characters convince... but it is Marion who is the indisputable star turn, a woman haunted by history, torn by opposing loyalties yet determined to stay afloat.

Whether read as a sequel or a stand-alone novel, "Tightrope" is a perfectly poised balancing act. Here's hoping it's not the last we've seen of Marion Sutro.
Malcolm Forbes

The Washington Post, 25/11/2015

...Simon Mawer’s fine new novel “Tightrope,”...

Mawer writes with skill and sophistication about the shadowy world of spies, as he does about sex, love and politics.

Mawer, a British writer whose previous novels include the much-admired “The Glass Room” (2009) and “Trapeze” (2012), captures the political passions of a war-torn age. In Marian, he has created a wonderfully complex heroine. If she is sometimes selfish and manipulative, and if her love of the handsome Russian seems irrational, we must ask how often people are rational about love and, beyond that, what lingering damage a year in a Nazi death camp might do to anyone’s judgment.

Reading “Tightrope,” I thought of Graham Greene’s “The Human Factor ,” in which he asked why a man might betray his country. “Tightrope” confronts that same question, and as a work of fiction it does not suffer by the comparison. It’s an ambitious, highly accomplished novel.
Patrick Anderson

The Wall Street Journal, 20 November 2015

Kriegspiel (blind chess) is the leitmotif of two remarkable novels by the English author Simon Mawer. Though “Tightrope” (Other Press, 500 pages, $15.95), the stronger of them, is a sequel and for the most part follows directly from the end of “Trapeze” (Other Press, 371 pages, $15.95), these two books are best read as a single narrative, the story of one woman’s remarkable life, first in the war against Nazi Germany, then in the morally ambiguous years of the Cold War...

Mr. Mawer leads us into the world made familiar by John le Carré, that labyrinth of moral uncertainty and disquiet. He gives it his own twist, speaking with his own voice as he traces Marian’s erratic and duplicitous course with sympathy and intelligence...

A good novel enables one to think and feel at the same time and also makes us realize that it is possible to believe what we want to believe while knowing that belief is false, to excuse wrong action because we love the actor, and yet to question the reality of that love... The nature of truth—emotional and intellectual truth—is one of the subjects of these novels; and truth, we find, is slippery as mercury. In the end, looking back, Marian can say that “it all meant so much at the time, didn’t it—the Cold War, the Bomb, spies, traitors, all that kind of thing,” but now? Now it’s “just a dusty piece of history.”

No doubt that’s true, though history doesn’t come to an end; it merely turns a corner to reveal new dangers, new horrors, new occasions for fear. These well-written novels can be read with enjoyment as thrillers, because we are in a position to treat that “dusty piece of history” as matter for entertainment, but they also blow the dust off that history and ask questions about the right way to act—and whether we are entitled to judge the past, when playing Kriegspiel was a matter of life and death.


New York Daily News, 10 November 2015

“Tightrope” is a bit like a game of chess. It starts out slow and at first the characters feel interchangeable. Then, about a quarter of the way in, it suddenly turns into an intense story with unpredictable moving pieces that seem headed for a tragic fate. The chess-like feel is apt for the new Simon Mawer novel, as the game becomes a recurring metaphor weaving its way throughout the book...

With gay characters and a promiscuous heroine, the book sees the past through a more modern lens – although at times the repercussions of Sutro’s sexuality are troubling. She’s a full character and an ostensibly admirable war heroine, but in the manner of an easily dismissible trollop, some of her worst decisions are made because she can’t – or won’t – keep her legs shut.

It is written with all the regret of a war novel, but the themes are equally applicable to times of peace. In telling the tale of mid-century Europe, Mawer explores whether it’s OK to do bad things for a good cause; what, exactly, is the value of loyalty and at what point the innocent victim crosses over to become the bad guy.

For the first 100 or so pages, it feels like the book is still waiting to begin — but it’s well worth the wait. By the end, “Tightrope” is a page-turner filled with tension, questions and complex but deeply flawed characters.
Keri Blakinger

New York Times, 14 October 2015

The characters in Simon Mawer’s latest spy thriller, “Tightrope,” set in the gray, exhausted, murky days of post-World War II England, spend a lot of time in tense encounters that pivot on the issue of who knows what, and who’s telling the truth about it. Jaded, wary, questioning their roles in a world they fought so hard for but now barely recognize, they find that the most precious weapon they have is information — how to deploy it, how to manipulate it, how to extract it.

The author, an experienced British literary novelist whose elegant “The Glass Room” was a Man Booker Prize finalist in 2009, brings a fine sense of story, an intriguing plot and a lovely way with a sentence to “Tightrope.” If it never reaches the sheer ingeniousness of, say, John le Carré’s best work (what does, really?), that’s because Mr. Mawer hasn’t set about building elaborate le Carré-like labyrinths that trap and crush his operatives. Mr. Mawer seems more concerned with how character shapes destiny than vice versa.

“Tightrope” is full of satisfying twists, and we can’t help cheering for its tough, resourceful heroine. She started “Trapeze” as a weak, naïve girl ashamed about her lack of sexual experience; she ends “Tightrope” as a coolly ruthless seductress, a woman who easily betrays and dissembles, a spy capable of planning and orchestrating a small rogue operation of her own.
Sarah Lyall

Kirkus Reviews, 18 August 2015

Mawer (Trapeze, 2012, etc.) dives into the hurricane of evil that was World War II and the Holocaust, examining the horror through Marian Sutro, an agent for Britain's Special Operations Executive whose life later becomes dezimformatsiya personified.

...The story is told through memories half a century later and is related by Sam Wareham, a family friend a decade Marian's junior who's always been enamored of the mysterious and sensual but broken woman. ...Within a mood—weather, vehicles, clandestine meetings—that resonates, Mawer’s pacing is meticulous, detailed rather than slow, never frustrating or boring but rather creating an ominous atmosphere. Marian is drawn to "neither death nor life, but an existence between the two states," but soon, unknowingly, she’s lured into "the spider’s web of intrigue and betrayal" that is Cold War espionage. Marian remains war-fractured and mired in existential crisis, an "awful abyss of indifference," flitting from, or willingly seduced by, lovers with agendas. Mawer’s minor characters linger in the memory, and as with many British writers, he laces the narrative with arcane references and language—benison, anfractuous—making for a fun, intelligent read.

Very much in the vein of John le Carré—a damaged individual trapped in a complex and morally ambiguous international intrigue set on the stage of the early Cold War.


Publishers Weekly, 7 September 2015

...Like le Carré, Mawer spins out Marian’s story in an immaculately methodical and suspenseful manner. And in Marian he has created a complex, contradictory heroine, emotionally fragile, endlessly resourceful, and unrepentantly amorous. If the novel is a little too long and too busy, it nevertheless tells a dramatic story about one woman testing the boundaries of loyalty as one kind of war gives way to a shadowy new one.







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