The Alice Network by Kate Quinn
The story follows two points of view in two separate timelines: Charlotte (Charlie) St. Clair in 1947 and Evelyn (Eve) Gardiner in 1915. It begins with Charlotte traveling to Switzerland from New York City with her mother to have an abortion, a theme controversial in the 1940s and in today’s world. Charlotte was previously a mathematics student until her “little problem” as she puts it throughout the story. However, Charlotte is rather uninterested in the path her parents have set for her and, instead, decides to venture off on her own in London to track down one Evelyn Gardiner, whose address she found while searching for traces of her cousin Rose Fournier with whom Charlotte lost contact during WWII.
Eve’s story, in contrast, begins in 1915 London where she is recruited to be part of The Alice Network, a clandestine all-female resistance group operating in German-occupied France during WWI. Based on real people, Eve meets Louise de Bettignie, the leader of the Alice Network who goes by Lili. Once installed in Lille, Eve takes a job at Le Lethe, a restaurant owned by a notorious collaborator Rene Bourdelon. German officers frequent the restaurant thus enabling Eve to gather crucial information to help the Allied Powers.
I cannot recommend this book strongly enough. Quinn does a absolutely superb job blending fiction and historical events that had me deep-diving into the real history and women of the actual Alice Network throughout the book. I greatly appreciate how Quinn highlights the actions and importance of women in wartime in all of her books, especially in this one.
While there are several men included in the story such as Captain Cameron, Eve’s commanding officer, Rene Bourdelon, and the adorably roguish Scotsman Finn Kilgore, the story is only told from the perspective of Charlie or Eve. Eve’s part of the book underlines the crucial role that women played in intelligence gathering in WWI as well as the disadvantages they faced simply by being women in a warzone. Charlie’s story deals with slightly more contemporary issues of a socialite in New York whose path is dictated by her parents and all that comes with being deemed “respectable” at the time.
While Charlie’s plotline was interesting during her hunt for her cousin Rose, I was much more invested in the story of Eve and The Alice Network. Both sides emphasize the destruction, cruelty, and lack of humanity present in conflict. However, I personally felt that I was significantly more intrigued by Eve and her progress with intelligence collecting and the fates of the others in the network. Charlie, on the other hand, annoyed me slightly. Right off the bat, she referred to her pregnancy as “her little problem” and this lasted throughout the entire book. While I can respect that is how she saw it, the constant repetition of “little problem” during her narration began to grate on me. Additionally, Charlie is fascinated with mathematics and equations, often leading her to talk about any scenario as such which became old rather quickly in my opinion.
Despite these two negatives, which I believe are easily overlooked in the greater story, I really cannot recommend this book or this author enough. Quinn’s writing is excellent and the narrative is very well-driven. Nothing is a coincidence or an afterthought. Every detail is relevant to the conclusion and I was certainly hanging onto every word.
- Kate Howard
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