Wednesday 26 October 2016

Fiction: Exposure by Helen Dunmore

Hutchinson €17.99

Anne Cunningham

Published 12/09/2016 | 02:30

Exposure by Helen Dunmore
Exposure by Helen Dunmore

Simon Callington is a middle-ranking civil servant in the Admiralty in London. He is married to Lily and has three children. He is happy with his lot, not particularly ambitious, very much a family man. The year is 1960 and while Britain is slowly emerging from the shadow of the WWII, the longer shadow of the Cold War looms. Simon's wife Lily is of German Jewish descent. Her family fled Berlin in 1937 and she's worked very hard from childhood to become as English as she can. Only her husband knows of her origins.

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Simon's older colleague Giles Holloway - a hard-drinking bon-viveur with a penchant for young boys - suffers a bad fall in his flat, requiring hospitalisation. He has left a sensitive file in the flat, and calls Simon, demanding that the file be returned to the Admiralty immediately. Simon follows instructions, but not quite to the letter, and is arrested as a spy.

The focus shifts at this point to Lily. She is determined that her family will survive this crisis. Her instinct for self-preservation is stronger than most. She escaped the Holocaust. She will endure the shame and fear that awaits her children while her husband faces years in prison. But there is much Lily doesn't know about Simon and about his relationship with Giles Holloway.

Reading Helen Dunmore is like uncovering an old, intimate secret. Her historical detail is flawless. Her narrative focus is never so much on the big public bluster as it is on the private fragility of the human heart - and her latest novel might be her finest yet.

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