*No spoilers, no BS.
The Alice Network, by Kate Quinn, 2017:
Page-turning Quality: 3
Love It or Hate It: Like it
Why?: The Alice Network was a network of secret agents spying on the Germans during World War I. Louise de Bettignies was its leader, and she used the pseudonym Alice Dubois, hence the name of the network. The story flip-flops between a secret agent’s (Eve) experience with The Alice Network and a New Yorker’s (Charlie) search for her cousin two years after World War II.
I promise, not every book I read is related to World War II.
I so badly wanted to love this book. Spies, the World Wars, love, family, and a hunt for a possibly-alive-but-believed-to-be-dead person? This seemed to have my name written all over it.
For the first 350 pages, I read slowly—more slowly than I would any other 430-page book. It was good, I was intrigued, but I wasn’t dying to know what would happen next. Charlie, the main character, was admirable. I liked the fact that she was smart and brave enough to ditch her mother in London. I also liked that she was standing up for herself in a time when so many women put their heads down and did what they were told.
While the mother annoyed me and the lack of respect for women was infuriating, that was a good sign for me. Anyone who can get me to hate a character or feel anger while reading a story is doing their job well. Quinn certainly made me feel and gave me a good idea of what life was like in the early 1900s for women. (Hint: it wasn’t great.)
However, the visions Charlie had of her believed-to-be-dead cousin were odd to me. It’s not that I don’t believe people see their loved ones in other people or in their everyday lives, but I didn’t feel hope that she was still alive. I wanted to believe she would be found, alive and well, somewhere in Europe. I wanted to believe that Charlie would find her and there would be some happy ending. I just didn’t. I always felt like Charlie was holding out some lost hope, and it started to annoy me after a bit.
“She’s obviously not alive, stop being naive,” I kept thinking. Maybe that was Quinn’s goal and that was the point. I’m not sure.
The French language peppered throughout the book made the flow a bit choppy. I’m all for learning how to speak French but stopping in the middle of a paragraph to look up what a phrase or a word means doesn’t make for a smooth read. You could skip over the French phrases; it wouldn’t stop you from understanding the story, I’m just interested in learning the language and needed to know.
By the end of the book, I was far more motivated to get it finished. It got juicier in the last 75 pages or so, and ended in just the way I thought it would. Predictable ending or not, it was enjoyable to read, and made for a better bedtime story than The Storyteller—it was less nightmare-inducing.
I will admit, I didn’t know Louise de Bettignies was a real person when I started this book. I did research afterward and found her story, which piqued my interest. Despite The Alice Network being a fictional book, knowing that Louise existed and that events in the book actually happened made the story more fulfilling to read. I love a book that can teach me things along the way.
I do recommend this book to those who love historical fiction and even to those who love mystery books. While it was a slow read for me, it still kept me interested throughout and could be a quicker read for others. If mystery and history don’t tickle your fancy, this one could be skipped.
Something I Learned: Feminism is important. Seriously, 1947 wasn’t that long ago, and Charlie couldn’t take her money out of her account unless a man was with her. Uhm, excuse me?
She was a young woman with a baby on the way and plenty of intelligence to get herself a respectable job, but it was taboo for a woman to work. So, her and her mother set off to Europe to “handle her Little Problem,” as she referred to it. Think about that: it was so difficult for a single woman to get a job that she had to travel halfway across the globe to terminate the pregnancy.
The world for women has changed since then, but not nearly enough. From sexual assaults and harassments to old white dudes in America deciding how women should handle their bodies, to unequal pay. Worse, women in some countries don’t have access to proper education, are forced into prostitution, and are forced into underage marriages.
Women may have come a long way since 1947, but we can’t lay our heads down and be content with what we’ve gotten. There’s still work to be done.