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by Simon Mawer

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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


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.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Mawer follows his Man Booker–shortlisted The Glass Room with another WWII novel based on the fascinating true story of Englishwomen whose French-language fluency led them to be deployed, via parachute, into France as agents of the resistance. The young Marian Sutro is one such woman, recruited to join the mission that gives Mawer his title, which sends her behind enemy lines in occupied France and connects her with loves both old and new. Though Marian’s naïveté and willful carelessness make her an improbable operative, her (somewhat convenient) ties to scientists researching the atomic bomb put her in a powerful and dangerous position. Slow to start (Marian’s drop into France comes well into the story), the novel picks up when she navigates the dangerous world of occupied Paris, constantly questioning who she can trust and who will betray her. While the history behind this story is captivating, Mawer’s take unfolds with inertia, is leaden with research that often feels unnecessary to the story, and is plagued with undeveloped characters, particularly his young heroine. Agent: Peter Matson, Sterling Lord Literistic. (May)
From the Publisher
“A fascinating WWII novel based in fact…Coming-of-age story meets old-fashioned tale of adventure.” –Publishers Weekly
“Much-lauded British author Mawer vividly describes the deprivations in a war occupied country and its once-vibrant capital and provides testimony to the courage of countless members of the French Resistance. But this is primarily a masterfully crafted homage to the 53 extraordinary women of the French section of the SOE on whose actual exploits the novel is based.  With its lyrical yet spare prose and heart-pounding climax, this is a compelling historical thriller of the highest order.” –Booklist (starred review) 

"The book is full of the fascinating minutiae of espionage–aircraft drops, code-cracking, double agents, scrambled radio messages.  There's a romance, too, though Mawer isn't one to dwell on his characters' inner lives, and Marian, who is "trained to keep secrets," remains frustratingly unknowable.  Still, Mawer exhibits a great feeling for suspence, and produces memorable episodes in dark alleyways, deserted cafes, and shadowy corners of Père Lachaise" –The New Yorker

“Incorporating many of the finest elements of spy thrillers and even romance novels, Trapeze is a fascinating tale of and homage to the resistance fighters and members of the SOE.” –New York Journal of Books

“Like the best historical fiction, the book is very much of its intended time, full of clandestine tidbits and Churchillian attitude, but not to the exclusion of the human elements that are required of any compelling story.” –The Daily Beast
Trapeze sets a thriller-like pace, and Mawer writes compellingly about the deprivations of wartime France as well as the everyday dangers of occupied Paris…Though very much a story about the intricacies of the spy network, Trapeze is also about a young woman who is called upon to do something extraordinary and is thus forever changed.” –Bookpage
“Where his last Booker-shortlisted novel, The Glass Room, gave an expansive overview of a whole country over the course of 50 years, Mawer’s latest is a more intense and tightly-focused story. Radiating an atmosphere of tense suspicion and claustrophobia, it is utterly gripping from start to finish.” –Daily Mail (UK)
“In this literary thriller, inspired by real female agents during WWII, an Englishwoman is recruited into a dangerous espionage mission.” –Karen Holt, O Magazine

“Simon Mawer is an elegant writer and a meticulous researcher…[Trapeze] combines a stirring adventure with a potent reflection on the allure of desire, duty and danger.” –London Evening Standard (UK)
“Mawer’s representations of England and France — both rural and urban — are at once eerily quiet and bustling with confusion, as he illustrates the fateful moments in a war and in a young woman’s life.” –Historical Novel Society
“Mawer's crisp prose, erudite science and subtle bilingual details raise Trapeze above the genre riff-raff.” –Shelf Awareness

“There are many shades of Graham Greene here…[Trapeze] delivers its story with the same delicate, stropped-razor deadliness that creeps up on you like Harry Lime in the shadows, nastily irresistible.” –Financial Times
“Readers will be stunned as they read the final pages of this fast-paced and exhilarating historical novel about a young woman’s path to maturity.” –The Columbus Dispatch

“Readers who empathize with Marian, and many will, will be stunned as they read the final pages of this fast-paced and exhilarating historical novel about a young woman's path to maturity” –Shelf Awareness
“A brilliant and engaging blend of fact and fiction, this novel will hook readers from the start and amaze them with a story of adventure, betrayal, growing into adulthood and love.” –KSL
“In a perfect combination of intrigue, romance, betrayal and incredible bravery, Mawer has, once again, as he did in The Glass Room, told a story that is factual and fictional with the edges blurred just so.” –Seattle Times
" a stark, focused adventure...[a] skillfully and intelligently executed thriller." –Washington Post

"Trapeze…is a stark, focused adventure…Although narrower in scope than Mawer's earlier work, Trapeze is no less rich and provocative. And in Marian he's created a marvelous heroine.” –Newday

Library Journal
Nineteen-year-old Marian Sutro is doing her part to support the British war effort as a member of the Women's Auxillary Air Force (WAAF). She is strong, tenacious, and flawlessly fluent in French. These attributes lead the Special Operations Executive (SOE) to recruit her for sabotage and espionage work in German-occupied France. Marian's mission is further complicated when she is ordered to find and convince an old flame, now a physicist working on a new bomb, to join the Allies. VERDICT Blending fact with fiction, Mawer's (The Glass Room) latest novel is a historical spy thriller with a realistic feminine voice that should appeal to a wide readership. The writing is fast-paced and engrossing. Occasional dry spots are juiced up with plenty of Paris dazzle, heart, and action. [See Prepub Alert, 2/27/12; for a nonfiction account of the SOE's activities, see Sarah Helm's A Life in Secrets: Vera Atkins and the Missing Agents of WWII.—Ed.]—Therese Oneill, Monmouth, OR
Wendy Smith
At first glance, Simon Mawer's ninth novel seems a surprising change of pace. In previous books, including Mendel's Dwarf and The Glass Room…Mawer braided together past and present in narratives that ranged over decades to encompass an abundance of topics, from tangled family relations to religious faith and political repression. Trapeze, by contrast, is a stark, focused adventure…But don't dismiss [it] as a highbrow's lunge for the commercial brass ring. Although narrower in scope than Mawer's earlier work, it is no less rich and provocative. And in Marian he has created a marvelous heroine, called by circumstance to a life she was born for.
—The Washington Post

Product Details

Other Press, LLC
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5.42(w) x 8.28(h) x 1.04(d)

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.

Meet 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.

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Trapeze 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 16 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.
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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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