Monday, January 21, 2013
Review of Icelight by Aly Monroe (John Murray, 2011)
Icelight plunges the reader into the frosty world of London in the Winter of 1947 and the emerging cold war. Monroe creates a vivid sense of place and of social history, with the shortages of just about everything, the black market, and the feeling that Britain is teetering on the edge of a new age, shorn of its empire and beholden to its ‘special relationship’ with America. And as relations with the Soviet Union sour and a new political war starts, Monroe focuses on the tensions, rivalries and paranoia that flower within and between British intelligence agencies. She does so through a captivating but, at times, complex and convoluted plot that involves a fairly large cast of characters. I don’t mind admitting that occasionally I felt I was wandering in icelight, and at a couple of points I stopped and backtracked to reposition my bearings. What holds the book together is the premise, some lovely passages of writing (I thought the scene with Cherkesov in a restaurant was wonderful), a general sense of social and historical realism, and some nice characterisation. Cotton is an interesting lead character, who is worldly, shrewd and standoffish, and is complemented by the more earthy Dawkins, and the other characters are well penned. Overall and intriguing and entertaining read, that whilst complex is thought provoking and nicely resolved.