Jennie Rooney is another author I met at the New Books Magazine Readers Day in 2013. I apologise to Jennie for taking so long to finish my review! Jennie was one of the morning speakers and when I arrived I was unsure if I should buy a copy of the book; it was in hardback after all! However, as soon as Jennie’s interview was over I raced out to buy Red Joan as I was captivated by what I had heard.
Based on the true story of Melita Norwood, a British woman outed as a KGB intelligence source in 1999, Red Joan follows the story of Joan Stanley, a British woman who becomes intrigued by glamorous Sonya and taciturn Leo, two Russian students also studying at Cambridge in 1937. After university Joan takes a job at a government ministry and has the option of helping the KGB should she choose. The story is told both in the present day dissecting the relationship between Joan and her son, as well as in a series of flashbacks.
First Impressions: I love the cover of the hardback! As for the content, I was absolutely hooked from the first page and read it in just over a day which was no mean feat while pregnant.
Highlights: I really enjoyed reading about the relationship Joan had with her family. Jennie Rooney certainly put a lot of thought into the full story of Joan, not just the spy element. Joan’s involvement with Sonya and Leo and her decision to become involved with the KGB were also realistic. I feared such a story may have included an overly dramatic moral dilemma based on love but the whole book was incredibly well written. Joan’s decisions were calculated and rational, just like her intelligent character.
If I was an editor: I could not praise Jennie Rooney enough for her novel. I would also want to know when her next novel will be finished!
Overall: Fantastic. A story of relationships rather than a spy thriller. A contemporary historical novel that inspired me to do more reading around the topic. This would definitely be my book of 2013 if I had put together a list!
Red Joan: 5 stars