Off My Bookshelf: Code Name Verity





I said on Instagram when I finished this book that I don't know why I do this to myself and oh my goodness that is the truest thing because why. I am always such a sucker for a WWII story, I always have been ever since I  read Carrie's War and When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit when I was little. I go into these books knowing I'm not going to be okay by the end and yet somehow that doesn't stop me.

Code Name Verity is one of those books. One of those books that made me not okay. I'm not talking Between Shades of Gray levels - that book, one of the best I've ever read, absolutely destroyed me and I will never ever be able to read it ever again. Code Name Verity made me sad. I also finished it and knew right away that I wanted to read it all over again. Between Shades of Gray was harrowing. This is less so. it's a hard read and it's an emotional read and it made me cry real tears but it didn't break me in to tiny pieces in the same way. It's a different kind of difficult. It is a book that is worth a read - that I will recommend to anybody despite the subject matter because it's just so so excellent. Storytelling as it should be. I could talk all day about the way this story unfolds because it blew my mind.

So.

The deal.

It's set, primarily, in 1943. A plane has crashed in Nazi-occupied France. It's passenger,  Queenie,  has been taken, and is being interrogated, by the Gestapo. The pilot, her best friend, is presumed dead. Queenie knows they'll likely kill her anyway, but she has a veiled excuse for a choice; tell them what she knows and live a little longer, perhaps long enough to be saved, or be executed. Right here, right now.

Oh goodness gracious me.

Here is the deal we made. I’m putting it down to keep it straight in my own mind. ‘Let’s try this,’ the Hauptsturmf├╝hrer said to me. ‘How could you be bribed?’ And I said I wanted my clothes back. 
 It seems petty, now. I am sure he was expecting my answer to be something defiant – ‘Give me Freedom’ or ‘Victory’ – or something generous, like ‘Stop toying with that wretched French Resistance laddie and give him a dignified and merciful death.’ Or at least something more directly connected to my present circumstance, like ‘Please let me go to sleep’ or ‘Feed me’ or ‘Get rid of this sodding iron rail you have kept tied against my spine for the past three days.’ But I was prepared to go sleepless and starving and upright for a good while yet if only I didn’t have to do it in my underwear – rather foul and damp at times, and SO EMBARRASSING. The warmth and dignity of my flannel skirt and woolly jumper are worth far more to me now than patriotism or integrity.

The story is told in two parts, the first being Queenie, in her cell and forced to write her confession on whatever paper her interrogators can get their hands on - sheet music, recipe cards, anything. She's terrified, she's been tortured, the information she holds is all that is keeping her alive and so she does all she can do, she writes: and we all know how I love an epistolary novel. She talks about the war, about England, about how she came to be friends with Maddie, the girl piloting the plane, the work she does as a spy for the war effort, the things that have happened to her since her capture and as she writes you fall into this world, it's multi-faceted and so so clever this story, layer upon layer upon layer coming beautifully to life as you read and you know the story, you know what is happening and you know how it ends and your heart is breaking.

It's like being in love, discovering your best friend. 
How about no, Elizabeth Wein?

And then.

Oh, and then.

And then Wein turns it all on its head and what was known becomes unknown and things you might have glossed over as insignificant details are revealed as key plot points and you're reeling. It's so clever, guys, this book, so so clever. Holy unreliable narration, batman (and again, always and forever here for that) because how much of any of what you're reading is the truth. Some? All? None? it's just a really really good book, okay, a good story with characters that just casually break your heart, and it made me laugh too and it is so so so worth a read. Just know it will make you sad.

Kiss me, Hardy.