When Entertainment Weekly suggested I check out the mini-series Restless, starring Lady Mary Crawley (aka Michelle Dockery), I begged my husband to record it to our DVR–having gone through Downton Abbey withdrawals, I wanted something–anything–that had any passing resemblance to the Downton Abbey cast–and let’s face it, Michelle Dockery in 70s apparel was too irresistible.
We thoroughly enjoyed the series, and then I discovered it was based on a novel, so I checked it out from the library.
Restless was an enjoyable book. I enjoy a good spy/suspense/mystery/history thriller novel, and this was a worthy addition to the canon. Ruth Gilmartin is a young graduate student at Oxford, halting work on her thesis and trying to keep herself and her young son afloat through tutoring English-language Learners. She finds out that her mother, a mousy retired gardener, was actually a spy during World War II for England, named Eva Delectorskaya. The story that ensues branches into two veins–Ruth’s grappling with her mother’s life, and the reading of Eva’s life in the 1930s and 40s.
I personally found Eva’s story more interesting than Ruth’s. While Ruth’s voice is engaging, she sometimes wanders into self-pity or helplessness, which stands in stark contrast to Eva’s assertive and decisive identity as a secret-service agent. Ultimately, the two stories come together (as most of these do) in a conclusion that is both satisfying and unsatisfying. I won’t say anything more, but it felt like an appropriate reflection on a life filled with suspense and paranoia.
If you like a spy thriller in the vein of John le Carre, I cannot recommend this enough. Check out the mini-series, too–it’s well-acted and trims down some of the Ruth-centered subplots that I felt weakened the novel a bit.