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.
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|Publisher:||Other Press, LLC|
|Product dimensions:||5.42(w) x 8.28(h) x 1.04(d)|
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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.
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?