Friday, 18 December 2015

EXPOSURE by Helen Dunmore

Set in London during the first year of the swinging Sixties, Helen Dunmore’s newest novel tells the story of a married couple whose life is turned upside down when a work colleague asks for a favour one night. In a world, where a spy could be a friend or a neighbour, or a colleague or lover.

The Cold War has made people very wary of trusting people, and the shadow of the Iron Curtain looms large over London. Simon Callington and his wife Lily, live happily in London with their three children while he works for the Ministry of Defence.

Simon comes from a privileged background and has turned the back on his family owing to his difference to his older brothers in size and style. Lily, was a Jew born in Germany, and her Mum left Germany before the war for England and made Lily forget about Germany and her language and she has to learn English word for word from scratch.

Simon’s work colleague with the favour is Giles. An older man who is going to be out of time during the 1960s. A man of more softer times who prefers the way things were after VE Day. Giles likes to drink during work hours and this drinking leads to an accident at his home.

From there on, the plot thickens as Simon becomes embroiled in espionage and ideas above his station promoting arrests, backstabbing and that puts Lily’s welfare in danger as well as the introduction of the villainous Julian Clowde.

Dunmore has created a good novel, in the sense that this reader found it engaging throughout with a delicate pace and tone, helped by the tricky notion of switching focus intermittently from initially Giles to Simon and then predominantly Lily for the second half of the novel. Dunmore delicately navigates the tricky matter of sexual behaviour with great candour and honesty, not apologising for it nor excusing the behaviour of those involved and how experimentation in your youth does not set a course for the rest of your adult years.

In the hands of a less accomplished writer, the book may well have floundered like the seaweed on the Kentish coast following a storm, yet there is enough intrigue to sustain the readers attention and enough characterisation of Lily to hold our sympathy.

The book has been brilliantly researched mentioning moments of the era to evoke a different time and place effectively such as the mention of Lady Chatterly’s Lover, and even the way people talk with their mannerisms.

In a time where the notion of gender politics is very much at the forefront of the social conscience, it is pleasing to see a novel with a headstrong female character doing what she does not for materialistic values but instead for the core values of family, loyalty and hope.

Lily does what she does for the good of her family, and after the shocking revelation to her eyes and ears, she accepts the man she fell in love with prompting a fitting finale that will look good on the screen should that ever materialise.

Exposure is a page turning novel full of twists featuring a bevy of characters entwined in a story featuring betrayal and menace.

It is published by Hutchinson Books on 28th January 2016

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