I know, I know, I should have read Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein back in 2012 when it came out because I had pre-ordered it, but I never felt quite ready. By exerting a magnificently huge effort, I managed to remain unspoiled for anything but the fact that there was something to be spoiled about.
There are many, many things to be spoiled about, my friends. I am not going to reveal major spoilers in this post. If you need or prefer to know ahead of time what you’re getting into, The Genius of Elizabeth Wein’s “Code Name Verity” [SPOILERS] by Germain Han and Kiss Me, Quick: How Code Name Verity Pulls the Rug Out from Under its Readers by Jacqueline Carey have you covered so far as the major reveals are concerned.
The world does not have nearly enough books about female friendship. I think this one ranks near the top of that category.
The book is set during World War Two, in a fictional French town based on Poitiers. The initial first-person narrator, a young Scottish woman whom we only know by nicknames for quite a while, is being held captive by the Gestapo. She was captured shortly after her arrival in France; she states she’s a wireless operator, and bargains to get her clothing back by providing her interrogators with certain codes for wireless sets she’s told have been captured. She’s being tortured in various ways, and forced to watch others being tortured; the physical torture is mostly referred to in passing rather than shown directly, but the brief mentions are tellingly horrible. She’s given paper and pen to write down information about planes and air bases in England; instead, she’s mostly writing about the life of Maddie, a young English air transport pilot who flew the narrator to France; we eventually learn the narrator and Maddie are friends. She also writes about sexual harassment. The friendship between these two young women is at the heart of the whole novel; it is the truth, the verity, at its center.
I did guess some of what was going on in this narration, but not the full extent of it. It didn’t matter than I had an idea the initial narrator was unreliable; there were still many twists and surprises. The narrator is under huge stress, and reveals specific and horrifying details of her treatment with dark humor. Sometimes she breaks down. Her narration is unrelenting and utterly gripping.
There’s a second section, with a different narrator under different circumstances that meshes tightly with the first section. The second section illuminates the first to a degree I wasn’t expecting, in a seemingly endless series of reveals and parallels, including episodes of sexual harassment. At several points, I was very glad I was reading unspoiled. At the book’s climax, I knew this was a book for the ages, because aside from all those tricks with narrative, and aside from the depth of the characters and their relationships, and the exploration of Truth as a theme, the author took a huge risk, and I think it paid off.
The word verity usually connotes an enduring truth. This book will definitely endure in my mind, for the [spoiler event] of course, but also for so much more.