***No spoilers intended***
The Alice Network by Kate Quinn (2017) has all of the key plot points you’d want in a spy novel: danger, intrigue, mystery, romance, redemption, and revenge. The book, though, has more than just a fun spy novel story. The author touched on gender injustice, as experienced by two white women.
This book switches between the point of view of these two white women: Eve a retired spy from WWII and Charlie, a pregnant young women living just after the close of WWII.
Eve and Charlie feel like 21st century women. I felt like I know both women. I’ve met them. I’ve had coffee with them. I’ve worked with them. Although the book takes place in two time periods, WWI and WWII, it often feels more contemporary. There was never a question as to whether or not the misogynistic acts and sexists expectations of these women were wrong. The author makes it clear that these acts are in fact wrong — without question. Given the time periods depicted (women got the vote in both the UK and US just before WWI — so sexism and male entitlement were still going strong), this assumption that sexism and male entitlement are wrong makes the story feel somewhat contemporary.
As the point of views switch between both women, the story compares and contrasts the experience of the two, seemingly different, women. In the end, the story also compares and contrasts with the perception of women today. These women go through a lot at the hands of hateful men. The story focuses on WWI and WWII, and because of that, the author subtly draws attention to the fact that not too much had changed between those two wars. Like so many other ways that social mores transform in order to keep unjust social systems alive (who ever is outside of the dominant group), patriarchical oppression continues today, if the window dressing of it has changed over time. This is a point that was demonstrated in this novel. There are many insults, slights, and attitudes that have remained infuriatingly the same—even today. The only bits that seemed that way were the direct descriptions of the time period, like the clothes and events.
Making the story take place in the distant past not only gives the reader an emotionally satisfying historical storyline, but it makes it safer, easier to examine these social injustices. One criticism though. The story has no women of color, so intersectional barriers are completely ignored. There isn’t even a brief nod or acknowledgement of intersectional barriers, which I feel is a glaring weakness in dealing with themes of sexism and misogyny since all women can experience sexism. I feel like it would have been better to at least acknowledge that there is a greater context for the sexism that these women experienced. (I realize that inclusivity can be a triggering topic for many.)
The plot points (spying, intrigue, revenge) were used for something meaningful—the examination of two women defiantly fighting against social inequities, making the storyline emotionally satisfying.
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Thanks for reading this! Happy reading.