Restless: A Novel

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In December, 2012 The Sundance Channel will air the BBC-produced film RESTLESS starring Charlotte Rampling, Michael Gambon, Hayley Atwell, and Rufus Sewell, based on this novel by William Boyd.


Someone is trying to kill Sally Gilmartin. It is the summer of 1976, and the only person she can trust is her daughter, Ruth, a young single mother struggling with her own demons. Now Sally must tell her daughter the truth: She is actually Eva Delectorskaya, a Russian émigré ...

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Restless: A Novel

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In December, 2012 The Sundance Channel will air the BBC-produced film RESTLESS starring Charlotte Rampling, Michael Gambon, Hayley Atwell, and Rufus Sewell, based on this novel by William Boyd.


Someone is trying to kill Sally Gilmartin. It is the summer of 1976, and the only person she can trust is her daughter, Ruth, a young single mother struggling with her own demons. Now Sally must tell her daughter the truth: She is actually Eva Delectorskaya, a Russian émigré recruited for the British Secret Service in 1939.  Soon Ruth is drawn deeper into the astonishing events of her mother’s past, including her work in New York City manipulating the press in order to shift public sentiment toward U.S. involvement in Second World War and her dangerous love affair with another spy. Ruth also discovers that her mother has one final assignment. This time, though, Eva can’t do it alone—she needs Ruth’s help.  Full of tension and drama, emotion and history, this is storytelling at its finest.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"An absorbing historical thriller."—The New Yorker

"Superbly written…one of the most smoothly readable novels of the year."—Alan Cheuse, ChicagoTribune

"[An] espionage thriller and domestic drama by one of the very best prose stylists and storytellers in the English language."—Atlantic Monthly

"The quality of Boyd's prose and the insight he brings to the story make Restless resonate. Told in his characteristically unobtrusive and elegant tone—[Boyd] explores the very idea of spying..."—Timothy Peters, San Francisco Chronicle

"A gripping and smartly crafted spy thriller set against a fascinating and largely hidden episode in U.S.-British relations."—John Dalton, WashingtonPost

John Dalton
This is Boyd's eighth novel and 11th book of fiction, and he has earned a deservedly enthusiastic critical and popular following in Britain and beyond. His characters are vivid and human. He weds the engaging personal lives of his characters to diverse and far-reaching episodes of 20th-century history in a way that feels simultaneously accurate and intimate.
— The Washington Post
Ben Macintyre
Boyd has written a crackling spy thriller, but more than that, he has evoked the atmosphere of wartime espionage: the clubby, grubby moral accommodations, the paranoia, the tense sexuality…Boyd's first novel, A Good Man in Africa, was a glinting satire, while An Ice-Cream War combined history, comedy and tragedy to wonderful effect. Here he has used a more muted palette, with no humor, no literary embroidery and little emotion. The pared-down style, clipped and understated, perfectly fits the sepia setting.
—The New York Times
The New Yorker
Boyd’s ninth novel, an absorbing historical thriller, is loosely based on the history of a covert branch of British intelligence created to coax America into the Second World War. The story unfolds on parallel tracks as Sally Gilmartin, born Eva Delectorskaya, a Russian émigrée recruited into the British Secret Service in 1939, reveals her clandestine past in an autobiography that she gives to her daughter, Ruth, a graduate student and single mother living a dull civilian life in Oxford in 1976. These installments give the narrative momentum (the accounts of Ruth’s daily life drag, by contrast) as Eva describes the taciturn spy who recruited and trained her before becoming her lover; her secret propaganda work in New York; and the act of duplicity, almost deadly, that forced her to flee to England and live under an assumed identity. Ruth barely has time to process the shock of her mother’s secret before she is swept into a dangerous game: finding her mother’s betrayer before it’s too late.
Publishers Weekly
When Ruth Gilmartin learns the true identity and the WWII profession of her aging mother, Sally Gilmartin, at the start of Boyd's elegant ninth novel (after Any Human Heart), Ruth is understandably surprised. Sally, n e Eva Delectorskaya, a Russian migr living in Paris in 1939, was recruited as a spy by Lucas Romer, the head of a secretive propaganda group called British Security Coordination, to help get America into the war. This fascinating story is well told, but slightly undercut by Ruth's less-than-dramatic life as a single mother teaching English at Oxford while pursuing a graduate degree in history. Ruth's more pedestrian existence can't really compete with her mother's dramatic revelations. The contemporary narrative achieves a good deal more urgency when Ruth's mother recruits her to hunt down the reclusive, elusive Romer. But the real story is Eva/Sally's, a vividly drawn portrait of a minor figure in spydom caught up in the epic events leading up to WWII. (Oct.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
In his latest novel, Boyd (A Good Man in Africa) entwines two stories. One, set in England in 1976, focuses on the everyday preoccupations of Ruth Gilmartin, a single mother who teaches English to foreigners in Oxford. Ruth's life changes when her mother, Sally, begins to reveal her past to her daughter. In the early years of World War II, Sally, whose real name is Eva Delectorskaya, was recruited as a spy by British intelligence. Sent to New York in 1941, she spread black propaganda in an attempt to coax the United States into the war. On a mission in New Mexico, Eva was betrayed and had to kill a man to survive. Unable to trust her team, she escaped to Canada and eventually returned to England, where she lives in seclusion under a new identity, waiting for her betrayer to track her down. While some readers may be annoyed by the author's stylistic tics, particularly the profusion of paired adverbs (e.g., people speak "seriously, weightily" and shrug "hopelessly, helplessly"), others will enjoy this glimpse of wartime dirty tricks. For larger public libraries.-Ron Terpening, Univ. of Arizona, Tucson Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Atmospheric novel about an older woman whose past career as a WWII spy has come back to haunt her. Ruth Gilmartin is a single mother of one in 1976 England. On a visit to Grandma's, Ruth's mother, Sally, informs her that her real name is Eva Delectorskaya, and that she was an agent of British Intelligence during World War II. Eva hands Sally a manuscript of her story, abruptly launching the duo and the reader into the past. Boyd (Any Human Heart, 2003, etc.) seems more eager to tell Eva's story than Ruth's. Not surprisingly, as the elder Gilmartin finds herself swept into a world on the brink of war in 1939. Recruited by the swarthy and mysterious Lucas Romer, Eva is trained in spycraft and joins Romer's team, specializing in disinformation. Propaganda is Eva's stock in trade, and she has a knack for it. Still, for all her talent, she finds herself attracted to her secretive boss. Boyd has obviously read a few espionage novels. Can any young woman resist James Bond? Ruth leads a far less glamorous life. Saddled with Jochen, her inquisitive son, she teaches English as a Second Language. Her adventures occur vicariously, through the lives of the foreign students who study with her. With a nod to irony, Ruth teaches people to blend into their surroundings. At first, her mother's revelation seems to be a sign of senility. As Ruth begins to investigate, the shadows of her mother's former life reveal themselves. There is some truth to this work of fiction, and the real-life events make for a fascinating backdrop. Boyd skillfully manipulates language as easily as Eva does. He handles the plot more roughly. Ruth is clumsy albeit untrained, and the other characters in her world are ratherthinly sketched. Yet Boyd fits the puzzle together neatly in the end. A bit light on action and intrigue, but a cool, collected effort.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781596912373
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
  • Publication date: 5/29/2007
  • Pages: 336
  • Sales rank: 327,834
  • Product dimensions: 5.74 (w) x 8.37 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

William Boyd is the author of eight novels, including A Good Man in Africa and Any Human Heart, three collections of short stories, and thirteen screenplays that have been filmed. He has been the recipient of many awards, including the 2006 Costa (formerly Whitbread) Novel Award, the Whitbread Award for Best First Novel, the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize, the James Tait Black Memorial Prize, and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Fiction. He lives with his wife in London and southwest France.

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1. What drives Eva to join the British secret services? Is she motivated solely by a desire to avenge her brother Kolia’s death?

2. How does Eva’s background make her an excellent recruit for the world of espionage?

3. In becoming a secret agent, what part of her humanity does Eva sacrifice?

4. Lucas Romer instructs Eva that ‘Rule Number One’ of espionage is to not trust anyone. If an agent can’t trust anyone, can they ultimately remain loyal to their nation?

5. Eva notes Romer’s tendency to order oysters when dining with her; considering the aphrodisiac a symbol of their relationship. Romer also discourages Eva from receiving extensive arms training. How is sex used as the ultimate weapon in the novel?

6. Romer’s AAS Ltd. specializes in media distortion: creating misleading stories that are planted with legitimate news agencies. The goal is to influence the course of world events. Consider the current war in Iraq and the role the media played in the build up to the American invasion in 2003?

7. How does Eva’s past prevent her from showing more affection towards her daughter Ruth?

8. Timothy Thoms concludes that Lucas Romer was a Soviet agent working at keeping the United States from joining Britain against Nazi Germany, thus allowing the Soviet Union to defeat Germany on her own terms and preventing an American post-war presence in Western Europe. Yet, prior to the Soviet counterattack of Dec. 5, 1941, the Soviet Union would have been desperate for American aid as the fall of Moscow was a real danger. Since Romer and his team were present in the United States prior to Dec. 1941 (during theSoviet Union’s darkest hours), is it not more likely that Romer was a German agent since Germany had more to gain at this stage than Russia in keeping the United States out of the war?

9. At the end of the novel, Eva is seemingly caught off guard when her daughter Ruth asks about Uncle Kolia. The author writes that Eva repeats Uncle Kolia’s name as if testing the phrase, savouring its unfamiliarity. In carrying a number of identities throughout her lifetime, has Eva lost her sense of identity and personal history?

10. The novel highlights extensive efforts by the BSC to influence American foreign policy. Was the BSC justified in attempting to draw an isolationist nation into the Second World War? Consider the following scenario: Prior to the Iraq War, the CIA uses similar tactics to the BSC in an attempt to draw Canada into the war. Would the United States have been justified in carrying out such actions?

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Reading Group Guide

Sally Gilmartin can’t escape her past.

Living in the idyllic English countryside in 1976, Sally is haunted by her experiences during the Second World War. She also suspects someone is trying to kill her. With mounting fear, Sally confides with her daughter Ruth; a woman struggling with her own past. Sally drops a bombshell. She is actually Eva Delectorskaya, a Russian émigré recruited as a spy by the British prior to the Second World War. For the past thirty years, Eva has led a second life hiding from the ghosts of her past.

Eva reveals her secret to her daughter through a series of written chapters for a planned book. As Ruth delves into her mother’s writing, she learns the shocking truth. Eva was recruited in Paris prior to the Second World War, following the death of her brother Kolia; also a British spy. Taught by an enigmatic spymaster named Lucas Romer, Eva learned the art of espionage and was made part of a unit specializing in media manipulation. Above all, she was taught ‘Rule Number One’ of spying: trust no one — a rule broken when she and Romer began a dangerous love affair. The affair had tragic consequences.

In 1941, Eva and Romer were assigned to the United States. They were given the task of manipulating the American media into motivating the public to support entry into the war on the Allied side. While in New York, Eva’s affair with Romer set in motion events that culminated in her betrayal and her flight from the British Secret Services. She found eventual refuge in a new life as Sally Gilmartin.

Thirty years later, Eva’s identity unravels with her confession to herdaughter. Ruth struggles with the truth, and her own recent past fills her with self-doubt and insecurity. A failed relationship in Germany resulted in a son and an eventual return to England. Her mother’s confession leads Ruth to the realization that her mother is entangling her in one final mission — a showdown with Eva’s past betrayer.

twists and turns through the double life of one remarkable woman. Through Eva’s life, William Boyd asks the intriguing question — How well do we truly know someone?

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 16 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 16 Customer Reviews
  • Posted July 8, 2010

    more from this reviewer


    When my mother, who was born in another country, died several years ago and I was sorting through her stuff, I realized over and over again how little I knew about her. Old photos, receipts, things she saved, I had so many questions. I don't know that this was part of Boyd's intention, but "Restless" is a deft meditation on a mother and adult daughter, what's known, misconstrued, revealed, etc. Besides great characters, dialogue, relationships, set in specifically described times in the 20th century, "Restless" also has mystery and a thriller aspect to make for an interesting plot. Like any good book by an excellent author, this book defies simple categories or description.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 17, 2012

    A good summer read

    This was a nice quick read with well developed characters and a good historical plot. This was my third book from Boyd and was better thanBrazzaville Beach and much better than the unreadable Any Human Heart which was not good at all.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 11, 2012

    Highly recommend.

    Extraordinary. Highly recommend. On mt all time list of all time best books.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 15, 2008

    A reviewer

    Ruth Gilmartin is a single mother, working on her Masters thesis and teaching English as a Second Language in Oxford. Her mother, Sally, has decided to write down the story of her experiences during WW2 and give them to Ruth. This is when Ruth discovers that the woman she grew up with was actually Eva Delectorskaya - a Russian who moved to Paris and was recruited to be a spy for England in 1939 after her brother was found dead. The problem is, Eva is certain that her story didn't end there, and now she feels its time for her last job. But without her daughter Ruth's help, her mission can't be accomplished. This is the story of William Boyd's novel 'Restless'. I'm not a spy thriller type of person, but this book can't really be classified totally in that genre. Boyd's novel is more a psychological investigation into deception and self-discovery than a real spy novel. The action takes place over the unusually hot summer of 1976, while Eva's story takes place over 35 years prior to that. This gives us two stories here - Eva's past, and Ruth's present. As the story progresses, things within these women's lives also heat up. One of Ruth's students professes his affection for her, while she ends up with house-guests that might be running from trouble abroad. Sal's actions seem to become erratic while at the same time she reveals the carefully planned out steps she took to go from being Eva to the mother and grandmother she is today. Finding out that your mother has lived her life as a lie, certainly can be an eye-opening experience. This makes Ruth begin to wonder about her relationship with her mother, as well as how her own life is progressing. Finally, Boyd also uses the upsurge of protests against the Shah of Iran that took place at that time to remind us that what we thought then, is far different from what we know now. This last element is basically the main theme of this book - an analysis of the past as a means for action in the present. While all this seems complex, especially for a novel that only runs 325 pages, Boyd's prose actually has a very calm feel to it. In fact, I couldn't help thinking that this was the most evenly written book I'd ever read. The prose is carefully written in a 'matter of fact' fashion, that feels well balanced, but with almost with no emotion at all. This, of course, lends itself to the mystery feeling of the book and is a good counterpoint to the mixture of feelings that both women experience as their stories progress. In order to tell both these stories, the point of view here shifts between Ruth and her life, and Sal's story of Eva, through alternate chapters. This is a tried-and-true literary mechanic that lends itself perfectly to such parallel stories, and allows two voices to run consecutively throughout the book. Of course, this is usually done using two first person accounts, but Boyd has opted to use mostly third person in both stories. Again, this lends another air of detachment here, while also allowing us to observe these women's inner worlds as well as their physical actions. That Boyd actually gets into the hearts and minds of these two women is his way of attaching intimacy to a usually impersonal point of view. All the more remarkable here is that Boyd - being a man - has been so very able to portray two women. That's not often the case, and most writers are usually better at writing characters of their own sex. However, you don't actually get to feel very close to either of these women, and it isn't like you'll have a terribly clear picture in your mind as to what they look like. Still, Boyd has managed even without that to make us feel real empathy for these characters, which isn't all that easy to do. Moreover, the character development here can only be called graceful. It's as if things happen here almost in slow motion, and yet the ramifications of each step along the way are ones that could easily snowball out of control. I also have to say that I truly like

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 3, 2014

    Captures you immediately

    Book was recommended to me by a friend and I put off reading it because, it didn't grab me from the title. I never had read anything from this author, so had no idea what it was and thought it was some drivel of frustrated love, was i off base.
    The intrigue of a spy novel played out over a global stage, but with a twist, as it includes a generational connection and surprise from a mother to her daughter and a villain to mutually dislike...Enjoyed the book from beginning to end...will definitely read more from this author. He held my attention by excellent story and character blending.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 24, 2014

    Great book!

    It is a great book! I highly recommend it.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 5, 2014

    Good read

    good plot

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 1, 2013

    A good spy thriller

    Kept my interest--hard to put down.

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    Posted August 14, 2011

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