Joan’s voice is almost a whisper. ‘Nobody talked about what they did during the war. We all knew we weren’t allowed to.’
Joan Stanley has a secret.
For fifty years she has been a loving mother, a doting grandmother and an occasional visitor to ballroom dancing and water colour classes. Then one sunlit spring morning there is a knock on the door.
Doubleday Canada | May 21, 2013 | 400 pages
Jennie Rooney's latest novel, Red Joan, tells the story of Joan Stanley, who, at the novel's outset, appears to be nothing more than an older woman making the most of her remaining years. But there is much more to Joan than meets the eye, and the truth about her past is about to catch up with her. Joan, who worked in a top-secret British research establishment during the Second World War, engaged in post-War treasonous activities that now, more than fifty years later, MI5 has finally uncovered.
Alternating between Joan's story in the modern-day, which focuses on her interactions with MI5 and with her grown son, and in WWII-era Britain, which showcases Joan's life during the War and immediately after it, Red Joan is an engaging story. Joan is well-drawn and the motivations behind her behaviour are clearly articulated. Given the nature of Joan's actions, however, she is not a character likely to elicit sympathy from readers. Nevertheless, readers should find Joan's story to be an interesting one. For me, one of the greatest strengths of this novel is that it illustrates how a woman such as Joan was able to engage in covert activities without getting caught (there were several times I asked myself how the authorities could be so blind), even when it was evident such activities were taking place within her small work unit.
Given the nature of this novel's plot, I found this a difficult review to write as I didn't want to inadvertently give away any important plot points by saying too much about the exact nature of Joan's actions. Keeping this in mind, I will say that I believe Red Joan will to appeal to historical fiction readers interested in the aftermath of WWII, as well as the start of the Cold War.
Note: I received a copy of this novel from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review.