REVIEW: Exposed, Helen Dunmore

Cold War Britain and stories of deception were beginning to fill the newspapers. Suspicion was everywhere and in particular, London. When Giles Holloway falls down the stairs and becomes incapacitated, his inability to return important files to work triggers a series of events which will effect the lives of Simon Callington and his wife, Lily and their three children for a long time to come.

At first, this appeared to be a traditional spy novel and I tried to work out who was the spy, who was doing wrong and how did the various characters connect. However, Exposed is far more than just another spy novel. Dunmore interlaces her story of espionage and crime with sensitive, emotional descriptions of family life. Making the dangers of espionage appear far more real to the reader by heightening the stakes – this family life, these lovely children, could all be lost. Dunmore uses police interviews to make the story feel more like a crime novel, than a spy novel, making it believable and more accessible without going to deeply into the political backdrop of the cold war. There were no dramatic chases and fewer plot twists than I had expected when reading the blurb. Instead this is a story of how relationships interconnect and people become attached to one another in such a way that they effect each other for decades.

At first, the novel appear to be about Giles and Simon, but about a quarter of the way in and I was far more attached to Lily. She is strong yet emotional, a devoted wife and mother, she has a terrible history which I won’t outline here so that nothing is ruined, but most of all, Lily is the one who remains untarnished. Even in the final chapters I still felt affectionate towards Lily. She fights for her children and her family and the life she has created with her husband. She is calm even in the face of threats and stories of spying. I really enjoyed Lily’s memories about her own childhood and the way that her personality was slowly coloured in and explained to the reader. The chapters where Lily acts purely as a mother felt the most vivid to me. They became tainted with melancholy as the story moved forwards and the family fell into greater dangers, before and after used to heighten the emotional value of the novel.

I felt immersed in 1960s England, an time I know very little about. By the end of the novel I knew the family, Lily, Simon and their children well. I didn’t want to read too quickly and say goodbye to these characters and yet I couldn’t stop myself from reading another chapter and then, another. Dunmore uses beautiful language and content that is sometimes horrific and sometimes beautiful to get across to the reader the impact of war. All of the characters are traumatised by world war one, far more than the cold war in which they are living. This trauma echoes through the pages and heightens our hopes for Lily’s children, wishing for them to go un-traumatised as Lily does. With beautiful language and depictions of family life that feel familiar, this is a wonderful novel. Heart-wrenching at times and yet rich with hope for the future. I highly recommend this novel to everyone and I look forward to discovering more of Dunmore’s novels, soon.

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