You might be thinking that V2 doesn’t look like the kind of book I usually review on my blog and you’d be right (although I have read quite a few of Robert Harris’s books). But my husband is a huge fan of the author and so today I have a guest review from him of Harris’s latest book which was published last week.
V2 is a wonderful novel. Completely fantastic. Harris’s style is effortless and intimate, leading the reader not just to the site of the action but into it through the delight of the characters bringing the story to life. Set in November 1944, Europe was in its sixth year of the Second World War. In the summer that year, Allied forces had broken out of the Normandy Beachheads and began pushing East through Europe. Events were beginning to turn irrevocably in favour of the Allies and Hitler would commit suicide in five months’ time. German morale was low and they needed success from their wonder weapon, the V2 rocket. Firing these from the Dutch forests rained vengeance on London.
Robert Harris is a master at bringing history to life with vivid description and most importantly, through such rich and endearing characters taking the reader right to the heart of the action. The humanity in the story leaves us rooting for characters in both the British and German sides, with the plucky British heroine, Section Officer A. V. Kay Caton-Walsh – “Kay” – stoically determined to play her part in the war and locate the launch site of the V2 rockets in the Dutch forests, countered by the idealist Dr Rudi Graf who dreamed of developing of rocket travel to the moon, but is struggling with the destructive output from the V2 programme and the gruelling intensity of the launches.
The description of a V2 rocket strike, hitting Chancery Lane in London, seemed particularly vivid for me as I’ve worked in an office in that lovely part of London. It felt voyeuristic reading the chilling five minutes of flight after launch, travelling at nearly three times the speed of sound, Harris has the reader doing the literary equivalent of hiding behind the sofa – the scene shifting from rocket launch, switching to an ordinary day in London life, back to rocket in flight, with the inevitability of the strike hitting the characters being watched. The vulnerability and bravery of Londoners who had survived the Blitz becomes clear as they have to face a new fear of the V2 rocket – terrifyingly real and chilling.
Harris paints additional colour into the story with a wide cast of supporting characters, such as the creepy womanising Wing Commander Leslie Starr – whose hands earn him the nick-name “wandering Starr” who is happily countered by the brilliantly intimidating matriarchal Flight Officer Sitwell with whom most people and their attitudes do not in fact… sit well. On the German side, Sturmscharführer Biwack from the National Socialist Leadership Office joins the V2 launch team in order to “boost their morale” and gives such a sense of immediate threat and fear with his Gestapo SS position that many times throughout the book, I stopped to draw breath, realising that the freedoms we enjoy today, take for granted today, were won by many brave men and women, on both sides of the war, fighting for these beliefs and values.
This is a powerful story, told expertly through a rich platoon of characters and draws compassion for both sides. V2 is a wonderful tale of Victory and Vengeance. I highly recommend it.
My thanks to Hutchinson (an imprint of Penguin) for the advance review copy from Netgalley. V2 is available now in hardback, audiobook and ebook formats. If you are able to, please support and buy your copy from an independent bookshop. Alternatively, you will find buying options for various retailers on the Penguin website here: V2
From the back of the book
The first rocket will take five minutes to hit London. You have six minutes to stop the second.
Rudi Graf used to dream of sending a rocket to the moon. Instead, he has helped create the world’s most sophisticated weapon: the V2 ballistic missile, capable of delivering a one-ton warhead at three times the speed of sound.
In a desperate gamble to avoid defeat in the winter of 1944, Hitler orders ten thousand to be built. Haunted and disillusioned, Graf – who understands the volatile, deadly machine better than anyone – is tasked with firing these lethal ‘vengeance weapons’ at London.
Kay Caton-Walsh is an officer in the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force, and a survivor of a V2 strike. As the rockets devastate London, she joins a unit of WAAFs on a mission to newly liberated Belgium. Armed with little more than a slide rule and a few equations, Kay and her colleagues will attempt to locate and destroy the launch sites.
But at this stage in the war it’s hard to know who, if anyone, you can trust. As the death toll soars, Graf and Kay fight their grim, invisible war – until one final explosion of violence causes their destinies to collide.
About the author
Robert Harris is the author of eleven bestselling novels: the Cicero Trilogy – Imperium, Lustrum and Dictator – Fatherland, Enigma, Archangel, Pompeii, The Ghost, The Fear Index, An Officer and a Spy, which won four prizes including the Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction, and Conclave. His forthcoming book, Munich, coming out in September 2017, is set over the four days of the Munich Conference, and is filled with the real-life characters and events of the time. Several of his books have been filmed, including The Ghost, which was directed by Roman Polanski. His work has been translated into thirty-seven languages and he is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. He lives in West Berkshire with his wife, Gill Hornby.