Review 1457: The Alice Network

I would estimate that 90% of the recent historical novels I’ve read in the last two years—and I’ve read a lot of them—are dual timeframe novels. Although I have read some excellent ones (The Weight of Ink comes to mind), I’m beginning to feel that they often indicate laziness on the author’s part. Why write a carefully researched novel about one period when you can write two hastily researched ones?

In post-World War II England, Charlie is on her way to Switzerland to a clinic for unmarried pregnant women when she ditches her mother to try to search out what became of her cousin Rose during the war. This all sounds very well, but the flippant first-person narrative style undermines everything serious about this section, turning it into, well, a historical romance.

She finds Eve, whose name as a preparer was on the reports her father received about Rose. And what are the odds that Eve is going to handle a report that mentions a name important to both her and Rose’s fates? Not too likely, I’m guessing, but that’s what happens.

In any case, then we plunge into the story of Eve, a spy during World War I, and back and forth we go for a book that is about 100 pages longer than it should be and very repetitive.

Worse, some of the detail and conversations, especially in the spy section, seem unlikely. I felt as if the characters were being put through their paces in benefit of the plot rather than evolving more organically. Characters are given traits to round them out, but these traits are just sort of thrown into the mix. For example, Charlie is supposedly a math whiz, but the most complicated thing she does is figure a tip or quote the Pythagorean Theorum (which I learned in 7th grade, and I think kids learn even earlier now). Neither is exactly high mathematics.

I know this book was very popular, and I think the subject matter is interesting, but I am not a fan of the execution of this novel. I wasn’t that drawn in by Manhattan Beach, but compared to this and some of the other World War II-based novels I’ve read lately, it was a masterpiece.

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10 thoughts on “Review 1457: The Alice Network

  1. Christine January 6, 2020 / 1:53 pm

    I generally only like the historical narrative in these books – for some reason the more “contemporary” narrative always seems to involve lightweight characters that I dislike. I felt that way about this one, as well. I liked the historical sections pretty well, but didn’t like the more recent narrative, or narrator, very much at all.

    • whatmeread January 6, 2020 / 3:04 pm

      I’m not as consistent as you are, but I think probably most of the time I like the historical sections better. I read one lately where I was more interested in the contemporary story, though. In general, I am sick of the dual-time narrative.

    • katknit January 7, 2020 / 7:01 pm

      I’m with you. Way overused.

  2. Silvia January 6, 2020 / 6:18 pm

    I don’t have the patience for historical fiction ever since a few years ago I read some for book club. Poor, unbelievable, trite, full of flaws.

    I enjoyed your reviews though, LOL.

    • whatmeread January 6, 2020 / 7:50 pm

      There are actually a lot of really good historical novels being published right now. This isn’t one of them, though. Thanks for your appreciation.

      • Silvia January 6, 2020 / 8:44 pm

        Okay, 🙂

  3. Davida Chazan January 11, 2020 / 1:28 am

    Yes, many historical fiction novels do the two timeline thing. I don’t mind, really. If you want one that doesn’t do that, I just put up my review for “Lady Clementine” by Marie Benedict.

  4. Davida Chazan January 11, 2020 / 1:29 am

    Oh, also, her book The Huntress is better than this one.

    • whatmeread January 13, 2020 / 12:40 am

      I’m not really inclined to try another one.

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