Publication Date: May 01, 2012
List Price US $15.95
List Price US $14.99
A propulsive novel of World War II espionage by the author of New York Times best seller The Glass Room
Barely out of school and doing her bit for the British war effort, Marian Sutro has one quality that makes her stand out—she is a native French speaker. It is this that attracts the attention of the SOE, the Special Operations Executive, which trains agents to operate in occupied Europe. Drawn into this strange, secret world at the age of nineteen, she finds herself undergoing commando training, attending a “school for spies,” and ultimately, one autumn night, parachuting into France from an RAF bomber to join the WORDSMITH resistance network.
But there’s more to Marian’s mission than meets the eye of her SOE controllers; her mission has been hijacked by another secret organization that wants her to go to Paris and persuade a friend—a research physicist—to join the Allied war effort. The outcome could affect the whole course of the war.
A fascinating blend of fact and fiction, Trapeze 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 the SOE, did the most extraordinary things at a time when the ordinary was not enough.
Excerpt from Trapeze
The plane tilts, turning in a wide circle, engines roaring. Up in the cockpit she can imagine the pilot searching, searching, straining to see the tiny glimmers of torchlight, which means that they are expected down there in the moonlight. A light comes on in the roof of the fuselage, a single, unblinking red eye. The dispatcher gives the thumbs up. “HE’S FOUND IT!”
There’s a note of admiration and triumph in his shout, as though this proves what wonders his crew are able to perform, to come all this way in the darkness, eight hundred miles from home, and find a pinprick of light in a blackened world. He attaches the static line from their parachutes to the rail on the roof of the fuselage and double checks the buckles of their harnesses. The aircraft makes one pass over the dropping zone and she can hear the sound of the containers leaving the bomb bay and see them flash beneath, their canopies billowing open. Then the machine banks and turns and steadies for the second run. “YOUR TURN NOW!” the dispatcher yells at the pair of them.
“Merde, alors!” Benoit mouths to Marian, and grins. He looks infuriatingly unconcerned, as though this is all in the normal run of things, as though as a matter of course people throw themselves out of aircraft over unknown countryside in the middle of the night.
She sits with her feet out through the hole, in the slipstream, like sitting on a rock with your feet in the water, the current pulling at them. Benoit is right behind her. She can feel him against the bulk of her parachute pack, as though the pack has become a sensitive extension of her own body. She says a prayer, a baby prayer pulled out of childhood memory, but nevertheless a prayer and therefore a sign of weakness: God, please look after me. Which means, perhaps, Father look after me, or Maman look after me, but whatever it means she doesn’t want any sign of weakness now, not at this moment of deliverance with the slipstream rushing past her and the void beneath, while the dispatcher gives her a nod that’s meant to inspire confidence but only brings with it the horror of superstition, that you must never congratulate yourself, never applaud, never even wish anyone good luck. Merde alors! That was all you ever said. Merde alors! She thinks, a prayer of a kind, as the red light blinks off and the green light comes on and the dispatcher shouts “GO!” and there’s his hand on her back and she lets go, plunging from the rough comfort of the fuselage into the raging darkness over France.
“A fascinating WWII novel based in fact…Coming-of-age story meets old-fashioned tale of adventure.” —Publishers Weekly
“Much-lauded British author Mawer vividly describes the deprivations in a war occupied 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.” —Booklist (starred review)
“The book is full of the fascinating minutiae of espionage–aircraft drops, code-cracking, double agents, scrambled radio messages. There’s a romance, too, though Mawer isn’t one to dwell on his characters’ inner lives, and Marian, who is “trained to keep secrets,” remains frustratingly unknowable. Still, Mawer exhibits a great feeling for suspence, and produces memorable episodes in dark alleyways, deserted cafes, and shadowy corners of Père Lachaise.” —New Yorker
“Incorporating many of the finest elements of spy thrillers and even romance novels, Trapeze is a fascinating tale of and homage to the resistance fighters and members of the SOE.” —New York Journal of Books
“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.” —The Daily Beast
“Trapeze sets a thriller-like pace, and Mawer writes compellingly about the deprivations of wartime France as well as the everyday dangers of occupied Paris…Though very much a story about the intricacies of the spy network, Trapeze is also about a young woman who is called upon to do something extraordinary and is thus forever changed.” —Bookpage
“Where his last Booker-shortlisted novel, The Glass Room, gave an expansive 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.” —Daily Mail (UK)
“In this literary thriller, inspired by real female agents during WWII, an Englishwoman is recruited into a dangerous espionage mission.” —O, The Oprah Magazine
“Simon Mawer is an elegant writer and a meticulous researcher…[Trapeze] combines a stirring adventure with a potent reflection on the allure of desire, duty and danger.” —London Evening Standard (UK)
“Mawer’s representations of England and France — both rural and urban — are at once eerily quiet and bustling with confusion, as he illustrates the fateful moments in a war and in a young woman’s life.” —Historical Novel Society
“Mawer’s crisp prose, erudite science and subtle bilingual details raise Trapeze above the genre riff-raff.” —Shelf Awareness
“There are many shades of Graham Greene here…[Trapeze] delivers its story with the same delicate, stropped-razor deadliness that creeps up on you like Harry Lime in the shadows, nastily irresistible.” —Financial Times
“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.” —Columbus Dispatch
“A brilliant and engaging blend of fact and fiction, this novel will hook readers from the start and amaze them with a story of adventure, betrayal, growing into adulthood and love.” —KSL
“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.” —Seattle Times
“Trapeze…is a stark, focused adventure…[a] skillfully and intelligently executed thriller.” —Washington Post
“Trapeze…is a stark, focused adventure…Although narrower in scope than Mawer’s earlier work, Trapeze is no less rich and provocative. And in Marian he’s created a marvelous heroine.” —Newday
1. Marian’s training in Scotland and her French background ready her for the logistical and practical aspects of her mission, but in what other ways is she prepared, or not prepared, for her mission?
2. Much of the novel’s narrative recounts past experiences and each character’s backstory. Why are each of the characters involved in the resistance, and how do their backgrounds affect each of their missions?
3. Marian Sutro has many different pseudonymns—Marianne, Alice, and Anne-Marie—and each one takes on a different personality. How are these personalities useful and distinct from one other?
4. Within the novel, spies and spying are often compared to children’s games. What are the deeper implications of this?
5. There is a foreboding atmosphere of fear, resulting from the war and the characters’ roles in it. What are the different layers of fear and secrecy? How does each character respond to these fears?
6. Trapeze takes place within a vividly depicted historical context. What other books have you read or movies have you seen about the French Resistance? How are the depictions similar or different?
7. Marian is taught not to trust anyone or anything, and to live in almost complete anonymity. When does she go against this—whether intentionally or accidentally—and what are the reasons?
8. The subplot of Clément and Ned’s scientific research in nuclear physics, and the foreshadowing of the atomic bomb, give the narrative a sinister and thrilling backdrop, but what other functions does this subplot serve?
9. The men in Marian’s life—Ned, Clément, and Benoît—each have a very different impact on the formation of her character. What does she gain from each relationship?
10. In some ways, Trapeze resembles a coming-of-age story. By the end of the novel, how has Marian changed, and what has she learned about herself in the process?