Book Review: Restless By William Boyd

Book Review: Restless By William Boyd

Restless was recommended to me by the lady I live with so I dove into it with high expectations. A spy story set in Oxford… It sounded exactly like the sort of book I would enjoy, but alas, in the end, Restless fell short of expectations.

This book is told from the alternating perspectives of Eva Delectorskaya, a spy during WWII and Ruth Gilmartin, Eva’s daughter, a single-mother and student at Oxford University in the 1970s. Ruth has grown up completely unaware of her mother’s turbulent past but finally in 1976, Sally Gilmartin (née Eva Delectorskaya) is ready to talk. She thinks someone is trying to kill her. She thinks she is being watched. She needs Ruth to help her find someone from the past and so she begins to write her story down, starting in 1939.

Restless gets off to a good start, drawing the reader into young Eva’s story, watching her evolve from a perfectly ordinary citizen into a rigorously trained British spy. Boyd provides a very interesting look at the life of a female spy during one of history’s most exciting periods and I most certainly learnt a lot about what went on, both in Britain and in other countries, at the time. At no point (ok maybe once…) did I think that the story Boyd was presenting was unrealistic or not based on reality. I thought that his portrayal of spies, not the James Bond type mind you, was really excellent, but unfortunately that wasn’t enough to hold this book afloat for me.

Knitting the two stories together in my head was somewhat confusing at first but as the book progressed this became a lot easier. I liked the parallels drawn between Ruth and a young Eva as it was interesting to see how a mother and daughter could be so similar when brought up in such different circumstances. However, I couldn’t help but feel that at some points, Boyd was forcing the similarities between the two in a way that simply wasn’t necessary and added little to the plot. These similarities do help draw the whole story together very neatly at the end, which is a good thing, but by this point they are clichéd and tired and I didn’t think the characters had enough other interesting attributes for me to look past this.

Whilst I found Restless interesting, I did not find it terribly exciting. There were many plot twists and surprises in store and whilst I had not seen them coming, I also didn’t feel any sort of shock or emotions whatsoever when they occurred to be honest. I think part of my lack of enthusiasm or emotion when it came to this book was simply down to the fact that neither Eva or Ruth themselves were particularly emotive women. By nature of her profession, Eva is quite cold and as her story is told in the third person, you never really get a good look at how she feels on the inside. Ruth, like her mother, also seems quite cold, both towards men and her mother. As a result, I did not relate to either of them and thus I was not hugely invested in what happened to either character.

I guess you could describe my state as ‘restless’ whilst reading this novel as I found myself racing to the finish, not because I really wanted to find out what was going on, but simply because I wanted to get this book over and done with before it was due back at the library. I have read many positive reviews of Restless and Boyd’s work in general but unfortunately this book didn’t really do it for me.

Have you read Restless or any of Boyd’s other novels? If so, what did you think? Let me know in the comments below!

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