January 26, 2014

Review: Restless by William Boyd

Restless by William Boyd
Published: 2006, Bloomsbury
Genre: Adult Historical Fiction, Thriller
Source: Library
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I stood there in the kitchen, watching her staring across the meadow still searching for her nemesis and I thought, suddenly, that this is all our lives - this is the one fact that applies to us all, that makes us what we are, our common mortality, our common humanity. One day someone is going to come and take us away: you don't need to have been a spy, I thought, to feel like this.

I feel as though I’ve really been striking out with my book club’s latest picks. The worst part is there’s no real reason why I shouldn’t have enjoyed Restless. It’s not the typical type of book that I tend to read, but it’s still fairly interesting and well written. Some pretty substantial disconnect made it difficult for me to enjoy this very much, however.

Practically out of the blue, Sally Gilmartin tells her adult daughter Ruth that she is not who she’s claimed to be for the past few decades. She created a new life for herself as Sally Gilmartin, but she fears her efforts have begun to unravel before her very eyes. She’s worried that her past has finally caught up with the woman who was once Eva Delectorskaya, a woman of Russian heritage spying for England during World War II.

Of course, Ruth isn’t inclined to believe Sally at first, and instead thinks that her mother is going mad. But as Ruth continues to read her mother’s journal entries, she’s swept away by the story of a young Russian woman who, after her brother’s untimely death, decides to continue his work with a British spy agency. Known as Eve Dalton, Eva travels across many countries and takes advantage of her many skills and knowledge. But she learns that the dangers of this lifestyle may outweigh the positives.

I don’t have too much to say about this book. It’s clear that Boyd has done his research. There are many scenes from this book that seamlessly integrate real-life events and Boyd’s own characters. I thought that I knew a fair bit of World War II history, but apparently I not as much as I thought. Either that, or my knowledge is more specific to American involvement and certain overreaching concepts such as the Holocaust (which is very possible). Either way, I feel as though this is a story that would be better enjoyed by those who really know their World War II trivia (especially that as related to British involvement/espionage).

Both Eva/Sally and Ruth are fairly well-constructed characters. I didn’t have a problem with either of them, but neither did they summon up too many emotions for me. I was never more than mildly amused/surprised/worried by their situations. I might have had the potential to be more involved in Eva’s story, but I already knew that she ends up leaving her service and becoming Sally Gilmartin, so the element of surprise was missing. Not every story needs to leave the fates of its characters as a surprise, necessarily, but my lack of empathy for the characters coupled with the fact that I knew that Eva manages to survive made me a bit less involved.

There are also many loose threads. I can understand the loose threads surrounding Eva’s life; once she decides to be a spy, nothing in her life can ever be clear-cut again. I get that. And the main mystery surrounding her increased paranoia and decision to reveal her past to Ruth is resolved. I never felt as though Boyd put the same amount of effort into Ruth’s story, however. Her story functions as both a frame narrative and a second story to Eva’s. Outside of her learning about her mother’s history and helping her get a sense of resolution on things, not much is resolved about Ruth’s personal conflicts. Again, resolution is not always necessary, but the lack of any sort of resolution on Ruth’s made me wish that Boyd hadn’t devoted as much time to her characterization and life outside of her mother.

Restless is not a bad book. It’s just not my type of book. If you like your historical fiction and thrillers with a decent dash of spies and espionage thrown in, then this just might be the book for you.

Rating: 2 stars

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Amanda loves few things better than sitting down with a cup of tea and a book. She frequently stays up far too late, telling herself she just needs to finish one more page. When she's not wrapped up in the stories of others, Amanda works as a children's librarian in a public library.


  1. Well, that's unfortunate. This book sounds really good on paper but if it failed to deliver that emotional connection you need to the characters, it's a fail. Sorry this didn't work out for you, Amanda. Hope your next read is more enjoyable. :)

    1. Yeah that's how I feel. I do think this is a story that may work out better as a film. I could see it having a greater effect on me that way.
      Thanks, Rachel. I did read this back in December and I've had many great reads since then. :)

  2. I don't think this would be my type of book either. :/ I haven't heard of it before, but I'm sorry it didn't work out for you.

    On the other hand, I cannot WAIT to see what you think of The Lies of Locke Lamora! MOST of my friends enjoyed it but a handful didn't, so I haven't rushed out to pick it up yet. If it gets your approval, though, then I'll be on it ASAP! ;)

    1. Thanks, Keertana. Yeah, I don't see this one being something you'd pick up either. There are definitely readers out there who enjoy this (as evidenced by the rest of my book club, but it's just not for me).
      And I will be sure to let you know. I'm only at 5% (and this is a BIG book), but it's good so far!


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