Well, we’ve done week one of 2021 and it probably doesn’t feel very different to 2020… but let’s still keep the faith. There’s plenty of time for lots of reading and finding your next best read. For me, school is still as busy as ever. I’m spending my time teaching online which is not too dissimilar to writing blog posts – I just feel like I’m talking to myself. Hopefully someone, somewhere is listening! Regardless, today I want to share with you a book you all need to keep your eye out for: The Diplomat’s Wife by Michael Ridpath. This was one of those books where I literally couldn’t put it down. I hope you love it as much as I did!
What’s it all about?
The novel opens in Buckinghamshire, England where we meet Phil. It is just before his big adventure to abroad but his plans are in jeopardy following a slight accident with a car. However, all is rectified when Phil’s beloved Grandma, Emma, reveals her need to go on a trip but she cannot possibly go alone. Therefore, it’s set – Phil will drive his grandmother around Europe, to relive her life and to solve the mysteries of the past surrounding her brother, Hugh and her husband, Roland. From here, we see the interweaving of the past and present within the novel.
“One of the reasons I asked you to accompany me is that I want to tell you a story. My story. The story of what I did before the war. I’ve mentioned I’ve been thinking of revisiting my life then. But I wanted to share it, so someone knows about it when I’m gone.”
Grandmother and grandson travel to Devon, where the story begins. Emma was just a teenager, happily living in her brother’s shadow. She absolutely adored him, idolised him really. Whatever he believed, she did too. A theme that runs within the plot is politics – communism and socialism in particular. When her brother changes his views, she feels betrayed. There’s more going on than what is being shared on the surface, clearly. Tragically, Emma was unable to discuss this with her brother further, because he was killed.
‘I pulled back the rug from Hugh’s face. I will never forget what I saw – it was a mess. His forehead and cheek had been smashed. There was blood, but there was also pinkish stuff, which I later realised was brain matter. It was truly horrible.’
Emma’s feeling of unease only grew at Hugo’s funeral. She meets Dick Loxton, Hugo’s best friend and Kay Lesser, Hugo’s girlfriend. Here we learn that Hugo had a secret life – a life as a spy. His death could be as a result of this. It is this information that starts the journey of discovery. From here, the two head to Paris. Emma was, as the title suggests, a diplomat’s wife. This gave her the opportunity to meet people the average person wouldn’t meet. She moved in circles that seem so different to life in the present. Something else was about to disrupt her world: an affair and a pregnancy.
‘Then a darker thought occurred to me. Was the whole thing camouflage? Had their affair already been going on when my mother invited Roland down to Devon? Which meant his wooing of me was just an elaborate cover…’
Emma has a choice to make: one that will dictate her whole future. Kay advises her and she has a plan. She will follow in her brother’s footsteps but to do that, to get information, she needs to remain with her husband. Lothar and Kay get her set up with the relevant equipment she needs. She is now one of them. Back in the present, the trip isn’t exactly what Phil had in mind. He does frequent a couple of bars and meets Heike. Can he trust her? She seems to be perfect and the two love spending time together. It almost feels odd when she asks to join him and his grandmother, something Phil knows his grandmother absolutely would not like. They settle for talking. Lots and lots of talking. Meanwhile, the next step of their journey is decided: Annecy. It is in this section that Phil sees his grandmother in a new light.
‘Nothing in his life up till now had prepared him for this. But he had to concentrate on the road ahead. On getting out of France safely without the police stopping them. Then he could think properly about what happened, what was happening.’
Berlin, Germany: the next stop. The threat of war is imminent in 1939 and it is here that Emma’s information is key. Kay needs her to keep providing but there isn’t anything to say or offer. There’s just no new information circulating. Until the news of Russia. This is the ultimate game changer. This information is huge. It is here though, that Emma learns the real truth. Once again, we know that all is not as it seems.
‘The anger evaporated, or rather it retired, waiting for a new target. Yes, I had been misled. But so had Kay. Both of us had been misused, drawn to betray our countries on the basis of false promises.’
The final part of the novel is in Spain. Emma is obsessed, literally, with finding out the truth and eventually putting her brother to rest. Likewise, Phil has never known about this side of his grandmother. This journey is as eyeopening for him as it is for Emma. In Spain, Phil sees a face that he recognises and Emma realises they are in immediate danger. As the novel closes, Emma’s story is finally told. We have a voice for Hugh, a resolution.
“To Grams…and her brother.”
This book is a must read for 2021. Due for release in February, it needs to be promoted to the top of your TBR lists. There are many strands to this that make it an interesting read. The grandmother/grandson element. It was really lovely to see the strength of the family ties here, especially when Emma did not have these as a child. Along with that, I really enjoyed the historical element of it. Novels set in the war are fascinating because there are so many ways you could present it. I loved the espionage take here was incredible. Who can you trust? You won’t know until the end of the book. Michael Ridpath isn’t a writer I’d heard of but this book has absolutely put him on my radar.
Keep yourselves safe and well.
Big love all xxx