Thursday, March 26, 2015

Sleep in Peace Tonight by James MacManus

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Obtained from: Netgalley
Read: January 22, 2015

It’s January 1941, and the Blitz is devastating England. Food supplies are low, Tube stations in London have become bomb shelters, and U-boats have hampered any hope of easy victory. Though the United States maintains its isolationist position, Churchill knows that England is finished without the aid of its powerful ally. Harry Hopkins, President Roosevelt’s most trusted adviser, is sent to London as his emissary, and there he falls under the spell of Churchill’s commanding rhetoric---and legendary drinking habits. As he experiences life in a country under attack, Hopkins questions the United States’ silence in the war. But back home FDR is paranoid about the isolationist lobby, and even Hopkins is having trouble convincing him to support the war. As Hopkins grapples with his mission and personal loyalties, he also revels in secret clubs with newsman Edward R. Murrow and has an affair with his younger driver. Except Hopkins doesn’t know that his driver is a British intelligence agent. She craves wartime action and will go to any lengths to prove she should be on the front line. This is London under fire, and it’s only when the night descends and the bombs fall that people’s inner darkness comes to light. In Sleep in Peace Tonight, a tale of courage, loyalty, and love, and the sacrifices one will make in the name of each, James MacManus brings to life not only Blitz-era London and the tortuous politics of the White House but also the poignant characters and personalities that shaped the course of world history.

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News photo of Hopkins departing
for Britain, January 1941
I was genuinely excited about reviewing James MacManus' Sleep in Peace Tonight. A self-described WWII junkie, I couldn't help getting worked up over the title. Unfortunately the book didn't quite match my expectations and while I enjoyed many aspects of the piece, I admit I wasn't as enthralled by the story as I'd initially hoped.

I think the idea here fabulous and looked forward to watching MacManus' characterization of Harry Hopkins fall for Churchill's commanding rhetoric, but looking back I don't think the author played the angle to its best advantage. Churchill is legendary, but I often felt MacManus relied on the Prime Minister's persona to carry the story. His interpretation of the famous Brit never jumped from the page which I found incredibly disappointing as so much of the plot relies on the character's influence and charisma. 

I'd offer comment on Harry, but if I'm honest, MacManus' portrayal of Roosevelt's adviser wasn't particularly memorable either. I liked how his position allowed the author to explore foreign affairs, American neutrality, and British politics, but the character himself didn't make much of an impression on this particular reader. 

Leonora Finch on the other hand, proved fascinating beginning to end and I'm not saying that because she's a woman. Unlike her counterparts, Leonora stepped straight from the author's imagination and I think the freedom that allowed played to MacManus' strengths as a storteller. There is emotion in her role, intrigue, desperation and passion. The ending, with its detour to Ravensbrück, was a bit slapdash for my tastes, but I greatly appreciated what MacManus did with her arc and storyline. 

Would I recommend the book? If it was a slow day. That said the novel was easily overshadowed by two follow reads, Kristin Hannah's The Nightingale and Richard J. Evans' The Third Reich in History and Memory.

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"It wasn’t love, of course; it was just frightened people clinging to each other in blacked-out hotel rooms, on creaking beds, while the shrapnel rattled on the roof and the windows blew in. They called it love because it sounded better, because love somehow justified their betrayal, and they were both traitors, weren’t they? Perhaps a few lonely, frightened souls had truly fallen for each other in those long nights. But not him; he was no different from the rest. All he had wanted was the pleasure of a warm, womanly body after the sirens had sounded and the whisky glow had begun to fade into fear."
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