This book is considered a classic spy thriller of the Cold War. Having lived in West Berlin from 1978-1982, I was very familiar with the Berlin Wall (which came down in 1989). The Wall plays a significant role in this story. I found myself incredibly suspicious of everyone and of everything that happened. Was it an accident or was it planned? Is this person a spy? If so, for which side? Or is this person a double agent, working for both sides? It was indeed a grim situation. Several people in the Mystery Book Discussion group commented that their spouses were in the military at that time and probably did some spying, but never talked about it, of course. My spouse worked for a German bi-cultural bilingual school, and I’m pretty sure he wasn’t doing any spying.
Having been a member of the River Action Environmental Book Club for several years now, I’ve read some of this before: that the root cause of famine is overcultivation of marginal land, that “agricultural methods that deplete soil faster than it’s replaced destroy societies”. I always feel kind of helpless, but at least some in this book club had the gumption and wherewithal to attend the recent Environmental Protection Commission’s public hearing regarding Iowa’s 4″ topsoil rule–whether to keep it or not.
Durrow said in an interview that she was inspired by a real event to write this rather disturbing novel. This was a rough enough story without contemplating its relationship to reality. It dealt with a situation I will never know personally, but that more and more people in this country do. Reading books like this gives me a certain understanding, a little bit of empathy. I value them for that reason and for the literary skill of the author–the sheer beauty and power of the phrasing and dialogue.
In this introduction, Phillips writes of “that most dismal genre”, redemptive memoirs, even as his own novel sounds much like a memoir. He mentions James Frey’s “A Million Little Pieces” (362.2909 FR) which was originally published as nonfiction. Perhaps all writing is a sort of con job. Authors convince us of their own realities.
There are two main plots: the French battle with the Viet Minh in Vietnam with Americans advising on the sidelines in the 1950s and a love triangle involving an older British journalist, a young American medical aid worker, and a beautiful young Vietnamese woman. The way Greene analyzed the situation in Vietnam at that time and the predictions he made about American involvement and the ultimate outcome were so astute. It makes one rather sad that he wasn’t heeded, but then he was only a novelist, not someone with “real power”. His novelist words remain powerful now though–perhaps more powerful than the words of the politicians of the time.
Publisher info: “The Woman in White” famously opens with Walter Hartright’s eerie encounter on a moonlit London road. Engaged as a drawing master to the beautiful Laura Fairlie, Walter becomes embroiled in the sinister intrigues of Sir Percival Glyde and his charming friend Count Fosco, who has a taste for white mice, vanilla bonbons, and poison….”The Woman in White” is the first and most influential of the Victorian genre called “sensation” that combined Gothic horror with psychological realism.