three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
26-Jan-Feb-2007
By: 
William Boyd
user_rating: 
0

A-RestlessFor better or worse, parents’ lives often remain a source of mystery to children. Ruth Gilmartin’s discovery of her mother Sally’s past is particularly shocking. Sally is not British, her real name is not Sally, and she was not the demure spinster she appeared to be. Rather, Sally was a spy who aided the British Secret Service in an effort to get the United States to join forces against Hitler in World War II. Sally’s double life spawns even more secrets, and as Ruth, a young mother and English teacher, uncovers her mother’s past, she tries to stop what might be an attempt on Sally’s life.
Bloomsbury. 304 pages. $24.95. ISBN: 1596912367

Chicago Tribune 4.5 of 5 Stars
"How pleasing that a novel that tackles such serious questions as the relation between past and present, old selves and new identities, love and work, and, of course, illusion versus reality can be such an enjoyable thing to read." Alan Cheuse

Boston Globe 4 of 5 Stars
"Boyd’s special virtue is that whatever high-flying action he arranges for his protagonists—in this case, the breathless action of a thriller—he doesn’t scant their obstinate humanity. To act never takes fictional precedence over to be." Richard Eder

NY Times Book Review 4 of 5 Stars
"He has used a more muted palette, with no humor, no literary embroidery and little emotion. The pared-down style, clipped and understated, perfectly fits the sepia settings." Ben Macintyre

Seattle Times 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Boyd’s best novels glory in the chaos of their heroes’ lives. They’re character-driven precisely because ‘character’ is often all his anarchy-mired protagonists have going for them. Restless, by contrast, is almost fiendishly, irreproachably dapper—a tense, noirish matinee idol of a book." Michael Upchurch

Washington Post 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Restless is a gripping and smartly crafted spy thriller set against a fascinating and largely hidden episode in U.S.-British relations." John Dalton

Los Angeles Times 2.5 of 5 Stars
"[A]novel that begins with a rumination by Proust on the fickle timing of death establishes certain literary ambitions for itself. Although Boyd, a deft and stylish storyteller, has delivered an enjoyable read, a skein of loose threads leaves a nagging sense of unfinished business." Scott Martelle

Rocky Mountain News 2 of 5 Stars
"Boyd comes burdened to this novel with the weight of many UK literary awards and a writing style better suited for literary works than the silences, spaces and misdirection needed in a good espionage." Pete Warzel

Critical Summary

Every critic agrees that William Boyd is a shamefully overlooked author on this side of the Atlantic. A powerful storyteller whose novels span genres and continents, Boyd often subtly ruminates on the thin line between private and public life. In Restless he fictionalizes a little-known moment of international espionage while using the conventions of spy thrillers to explore a generation gap. Critics roundly praise Sally’s story. It’s her daughter’s story that’s the trouble: a few reviewers find it sorely mismatched with the more dramatic elements of the book. A frequent prizewinner in England (including the Whitbread First Novel Award for A Good Man in Africa), Boyd has yet to catapult to the popularity of the Ian McEwans of the world. Whether Restless is the book to push him into wider renown is up for debate.

Also by the Author

Brazzaville Beach (1990): Hope Clearwater is an ecologist living in Africa, researching chimpanzees and escaping her marriage to an English mathematician. When she discovers that the chimps can be warlike and cannibalistic, her boss refuses to believe her. Soon her tent is burned down, her research lost, and she sees more and more parallels between chimpanzee and human behavior.