Trapeze

Trapeze

by Simon Mawer

Paperback(Original)

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Overview

A propulsive novel of World War II espionage by the author of New York Times best seller The Glass Room.

Barely out of school and doing her bit for the British war effort, Marian Sutro has one quality that makes her stand out—she is a native French speaker. It is this that attracts the attention of the SOE, the Special Operations Executive, which trains agents to operate in occupied Europe. Drawn into this strange, secret world at the age of nineteen, she finds herself undergoing commando training, attending a “school for spies,” and ultimately, one autumn night, parachuting into France from an RAF bomber to join the WORDSMITH resistance network.
   But there’s more to Marian’s mission than meets the eye of her SOE controllers; her mission has been hijacked by another secret organization that wants her to go to Paris and persuade a friend—a research physicist—to join the Allied war effort. The outcome could affect the whole course of the war.
   A fascinating blend of fact and fiction, Trapeze is both an old-fashioned adventure story and a modern exploration of a young woman’s growth into adulthood. There is violence, and there is love. There is death and betrayal, deception and revelation. But above all there is Marian Sutro, an ordinary young woman who, like her real-life counterparts in the SOE, did the most extraordinary things at a time when the ordinary was not enough.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781590515273
Publisher: Other Press, LLC
Publication date: 05/01/2012
Edition description: Original
Pages: 384
Sales rank: 238,481
Product dimensions: 5.42(w) x 8.28(h) x 1.04(d)

About the Author

Simon Mawer is the author of the New York Times best-selling novel The Glass Room (Other Press), which was short-listed for the Man Booker Prize. His previous novels include The Fall (winner of the Boardman Tasker Prize), The Gospel of Judas, and Mendel’s Dwarf (long-listed for the Man Booker Prize). English by birth, he has made Italy his home for more than thirty years. www.simonmawer.com

Read an Excerpt

The plane tilts, turning in a wide circle, engines roaring. Up in the cockpit she can imagine the pilot searching, searching, straining to see the tiny glimmers of torchlight, which means that they are expected down there in the moonlight. A light comes on in the roof of the fuselage, a single, unblinking red eye. The dispatcher gives the thumbs up. “HE’S FOUND IT!”
   There’s a note of admiration and triumph in his shout, as though this proves what wonders his crew are able to perform, to come all this way in the darkness, eight hundred miles from home, and find a pinprick of light in a blackened world. He attaches the static line from their parachutes to the rail on the roof of the fuselage and double checks the buckles of their harnesses. The aircraft makes one pass over the dropping zone and she can hear the sound of the containers leaving the bomb bay and see them flash beneath, their canopies billowing open. Then the machine banks and turns and steadies for the second run. “YOUR TURN NOW!” the dispatcher yells at the pair of them.
   “Merde, alors!” Benoit mouths to Marian, and grins. He looks infuriatingly unconcerned, as though this is all in the normal run of things, as though as a matter of course people throw themselves out of aircraft over unknown countryside in the middle of the night.
 
   Merde alors!
She sits with her feet out through the hole, in the slipstream, like sitting on a rock with your feet in the water, the current pulling at them. Benoit is right behind her. She can feel him against the bulk of her parachute pack, as though the pack has become a sensitive extension of her own body. She says a prayer, a baby prayer pulled out of childhood memory, but nevertheless a prayer and therefore a sign of weakness: God, please look after me. Which means, perhaps, Father look after me, or Maman look after me, but whatever it means she doesn’t want any sign of weakness now, not at this moment of deliverance with the slipstream rushing past her and the void beneath, while the dispatcher gives her a nod that’s meant to inspire confidence but only brings with it the horror of superstition, that you must never congratulate yourself, never applaud, never even wish anyone good luck. Merde alors! That was all you ever said. Merde alors! She thinks, a prayer of a kind, as the red light blinks off and the green light comes on and the dispatcher shouts “GO!” and there’s his hand on her back and she lets go, plunging from the rough comfort of the fuselage into the raging darkness over France.

Reading Group Guide

1. Marian’s training in Scotland and her French background ready her for the logistical and practical aspects of her mission, but in what other ways is she prepared, or not prepared, for her mission?

2. Much of the novel’s narrative recounts past experiences and each character’s backstory. Why are each of the characters involved in the resistance, and how do their backgrounds affect each of their missions?

3. Marian Sutro has many different pseudonymns—Marianne, Alice, and Anne-Marie—and each one takes on a different personality. How are these personalities useful and distinct from one other?

4. Within the novel, spies and spying are often compared to children’s games. What are the deeper implications of this?

5. There is a foreboding atmosphere of fear, resulting from the war and the characters’ roles in it. What are the different layers of fear and secrecy? How does each character respond to these fears?

6. Trapeze takes place within a vividly depicted historical context. What other books have you read or movies have you seen about the French Resistance? How are the depictions similar or different?

7. Marian is taught not to trust anyone or anything, and to live in almost complete anonymity. When does she go against this—whether intentionally or accidentally—and what are the reasons?

8. The subplot of Clément and Ned’s scientific research in nuclear physics, and the foreshadowing of the atomic bomb, give the narrative a sinister and thrilling backdrop, but what other functions does this subplot serve?

9. The men in Marian’s life—Ned, Clément, and Benoît—each have a very different impact on the formation of her character. What does she gain from each relationship?

10. In some ways, Trapeze resembles a coming-of-age story. By the end of the novel, how has Marian changed, and what has she learned about herself in the process?

Customer Reviews

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Trapeze 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 20 reviews.
Humbee More than 1 year ago
Mr. Mawer is a learned and wise gentleman who spends most of his time in research and writing. His novel "Trapeze" is reflective of this. While he is an intellect and scholar, his book is infinitely readable and moves at a fast pace. I enjoyed it very much. "Trapeze" is a love story and a crow's eyed view of the behind the scenes during WWII in France. It is a tribute to the many women who served and died in the Resistance. I believe it's a tribute to all women who brave the front and hidden alleyways of war even today, and may never get the recognition they deserve. It always strikes me hard that the heroines (and heros) of war are so often young people in their latter teens and early 20's. There is violence, there is a daring in events, requirements of bravery; and. not so much a "coming of age" as a story of learning the hardships and harsh realities of life in this novel. There certainly is a story of "bucking up" under terrifying situations for the young woman protagonist, 19 year old, Marian Sutro.We learn the ever true story that war creates heroes and survivors, or those who are destroyed and wounded. A wise man once said that "courage is simply fear bolstered by prayer." In "Trapeze" we find this sort of courage. Marian Sutro, just a simple young woman of no apparent genius, learned to draw from a courage she didn't realize she had, and that meant everything in a world gone crazy with violence and desperation. The love story between Marian and research physicist Clement Pelletier is poignant and, at the same time, filled with tension. It is through this relationship we feel the impact of the war and the human tragedies and risks played out. Their chemistry leaps off the pages, and I don't mean physics! All in all, I loved "Trapeze." It's not an ordinary historical fiction. It's a novel with contemporary relevance; one with a universal message and a tribute to not only the women of the French resistance, but of all women who fight behind the scenes for their country, for freedom.
thewanderingjew More than 1 year ago
Based on the true story of a group of young women who were recruited in Britain, during WWII, to serve in the French Division of The Special Operations Executive, the book is filled with historic facts about their training, innocence and bravery in the face of enormous danger. The SOE trained these women for espionage and all types of weapon use. Dropped into France, in secret, they became different people, and they performed whatever assignments they were given, often completely on their own, facing untold danger. Many did not survive the effort. The author, Simon Mawer, introduces us to Marian Sutro when she is a young girl of 19. A member of the WAF, she is recruited into this spy machine and parachuted into France with several new identities. She enters the maelstrom of war, young and a bit naïve, however, she is forced to mature quickly. She and other recruits become romantically involved with each other, although it is against regulations, so in addition to this exciting tale of espionage, there are forbidden romantic liaisons and love stories taking place. Romance can fog the mind and compromise their ability to think clearly, but the constant danger makes them behave carelessly and foolishly sometimes. There is always so much at stake; this behavior becomes a release for tension. Marian’s mission is of the highest priority and her life is always in danger. There is no shortage of mystery or intrigue. We witness murder and betrayal, fear and courage, in the face of monumental danger. If caught, awful consequences await them. This historic piece of fiction, about a group of people engaged in the effort to end World War II that I had never heard about before, is really engaging and eye opening. Working alongside freedom fighters who often believed that the women were unworthy of the task, whose beauty was distracting, they must nevertheless prove themselves and do their job in the face of the resistance, rudeness, and mistrust. I particularly liked the descriptive use of language. It made what might have been a mundane spy story, leap off the page. There was little use of crude language, inappropriate sex and whatever other contrivance other writers of late seem to be wont to do; instead, Mawer uses the language effectively to tell the story by creating images that are revealing. For instance, body odor is the scent from an armpit, an image the reader can appreciate. I found the reader of this audio to be excellent. Her vocal expression made the content clear. Her use of voices brought the characters to life and her tone seemed pitch perfect to me.
picardyrose on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Her training was the best part.
BookishDame on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Mr. Mawer is a learned and wise gentleman who spends most of his time in research and writing. His novel "Trapeze" is reflective of this. While he is an intellect and scholar, his book is infinitely readable and moves at a fast pace. I enjoyed it very much."Trapeze" is a love story and a crow's eyed view of the behind the scenes during WWII in France. It is a tribute to the many women who served and died in the Resistance. I believe it's a tribute to all women who brave the front and hidden alleyways of war even today, and may never get the recognition they deserve. It always strikes me hard that the heroines (and heros) of war are so often young people in their latter teens and early 20's.There is violence, there is a daring in events, requirements of bravery; and. not so much a "coming of age" as a story of learning the hardships and harsh realities of life in this novel. There certainly is a story of "bucking up" under terrifying situations for the young woman protagonist, 19 year old, Marian Sutro.We learn the ever true story that war creates heroes and survivors, or those who are destroyed and wounded. A wise man once said that "courage is simply fear bolstered by prayer." In "Trapeze" we find this sort of courage. Marian Sutro, just a simple young woman of no apparent genius, learned to draw from a courage she didn't realize she had, and that meant everything in a world gone crazy with violence and desperation. The love story between Marian and research physicist Clement Pelletier is poignant and, at the same time, filled with tension. It is through this relationship we feel the impact of the war and the human tragedies and risks played out. Their chemistry leaps off the pages, and I don't mean physics!All in all, I loved "Trapeze." It's not an ordinary historical fiction. It's a novel with contemporary relevance; one with a universal message and a tribute to not only the women of the French resistance, but of all women who fight behind the scenes for their country, for freedom.
Beamis12 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Hitler invades France and France becomes a pl;ace of tension and horror, food shortages although good wine can still be had. We know many of the names of the villains of World War II but few of the heroes, especially the regular people who stepped outside of their comfort level in an attempt to change a small part of history. For me the strength of this novel is that it made me think. A young woman of a privileged background joins the WAAF when England declares war on Germany. She is picked to join a covert unit and the reader follows her through her training and her mission as a courier in France. Paris is extremely dangerous and when she is sent there things start to go terribly wrong. This is the first novel I remember reading that features an ordinary person, who chooses to take on a mission she never thought she would have to face and does it with an amazing strength of will. Suspenseful and engaging reading.
kmmt48 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The premise of this story is very intriguing - English upper class women being trained to aid the French Resistance because they can speak fluent French. The novel was very well researched and there is alot to absorbed as the first half goes through the recruitment and training of these women. The second half deals with our heroine, Marian, being dropped into France. I enjoyed the novel as there is quite a bit of intrigue and the tension on the ground with the occupation and the constant threat of discovery by the enemy is very realistic. The writing style was a bit disjointed and the reader must pay attention to every detail in order to follow the action which picks up quite a bit during the second half. In the end I suppose the writing style mirrors the tense existence of these women as they faced a very real danger. The ending was a bit of a surprise but also expected. A thought provoking read to say the least.
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This was not one of my favorites. It did not keep my interest.
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silencedogoodreturns More than 1 year ago
Wow. This book is a great read, and would make a great movie. WWII derring-do, espionage, spy and commando training, a woman coming of age in a man's world, a world where fear, betrayal and terror are just a minute away. Highly recommend.
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