Tightrope


Publication Date: Nov 03, 2015

432 pp

Trade Paperback

List Price US $15.95
Trim Size (H x W): 5.5 x 8.25
ISBN: 9781590517239

Ebook

List Price US $15.95
ISBN: 9781590517246


From the author of the best-selling and Booker Prize–shortlisted The Glass Room and Trapeze

An historical thriller that brings back Marian Sutro, ex-Special Operations agent, and traces her romantic and political exploits in post-World War II London, where the Cold War is about to reshape old loyalties

As Allied forces close in on Berlin in spring 1945, a solitary figure emerges from the wreckage that is Germany. It is Marian Sutro, whose existence was last known to her British controllers in autumn 1943 in Paris. One of a handful of surviving agents of the Special Operations Executive, she has withstood arrest, interrogation, incarceration, and the horrors of Ravensbrück concentration camp, but at what cost? Returned to an England she barely knows and a postwar world she doesn’t understand, Marian searches for something on which to ground the rest of her life. Family and friends surround her, but she is haunted by her experiences and by the guilt of knowing that her contribution to the war effort helped lead to the monstrosities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. When the mysterious Major Fawley, the man who hijacked her wartime mission to Paris, emerges from the shadows to draw her into the ambiguities and uncertainties of the Cold War, she sees a way to make amends for the past and at the same time to find the identity that has never been hers.

A novel of divided loyalties and mixed motives, Tightrope is the complex and enigmatic story of a woman whose search for personal identity and fulfillment leads her to shocking choices.



Excerpt from Tightrope

If she stares out of the window perhaps the questions will stop. There have been so many questions. The American intelligence officer asked her questions, dozens of questions that referred to a time that seemed so distant as to belong to another person in a different world. She had wanted those questions to stop but they kept on mercilessly:

“How did you get to France?”

“I jumped.”

“Jumped?”

“Parachute. I parachuted.”

“When was this?”

When was it? Time was dilated, the whole of her previous life compressed into a few moments, the last year stretching out into decades. “I don’t recall. October, I think. The October moon. Look it up in your calendar.”

“Last year?”

Was it last year? Days, months stumbled through her brain, the units of misery, the texture of her existence, a medium she struggled through, like wading waist-deep through icy water. “The year before. Nineteen forty-three.”

“You parachuted into France in the fall of forty-three?” There was incredulity in his tone. “Where was this exactly?”

“The southwest. North of Toulouse. I forget the name of the place…’

“And who sent you?”

“I can’t tell you that.”

“Why not?”

“Because it’s secret. If you contact British intelligence they’ll confirm my story. Please, do that. Please. I beg you.”

“And then you were arrested. Where was that?”

“In Paris. Near Paris, not in Paris. At a railway station.”

“Name?”

She shook her head. “I forget…”


The characters in Simon Mawer’s latest spy thriller, Tightrope, set in the gray, exhausted, murky days of post-World War II England, spend a lot of time in tense encounters that pivot on the issue of who knows what, and who’s telling the truth about it…[Mawer] brings a fine sense of story, an intriguing plot and a lovely way with a sentence…Tightrope is full of satisfying twists, and we can’t help cheering for its tough, resourceful heroine…” —The New York Times

“Mawer has excelled with another tangled, character-led literary thriller. i is a perfectly poised balancing act.” —Minneapolis Star Tribune

“A fine novel…[Mawer] has created a wonderfully complex heroine. [Tightrope] is an ambitious, highly accomplished novel.” —The Washington Post

“Outstanding…Mawer’s novel offers a meditation on the problem of identity in a world where everything is cover for something else. A spy novel with the psychological richness and complexity of literary fiction.” —Booklist (starred review)

“In Marian [Simon Mawer] has created a complex, contradictory heroine, emotionally fragile, endlessly resourceful, and unrepentantly amorous. …[Tightrope] tells a dramatic story about one woman testing the boundaries of loyalty as one kind of war gives way to a shadowy new one.” —Publishers Weekly

“Heroine/’traitor’ Marian, introduced in Trapeze, is compelling and complicated. …Excellent for historical thriller readers and those interested in the dawn of the nuclear era.” —Library Journal

“A fun, intelligent read.” —Kirkus Reviews

Tightrope is a beautifully written, artfully considered post-WWII existential spy story.” —The Boston Herald/Hollywood & Mine Blog

“Mawer is a skillful writer and this is a sophisticated, deviously constructed story of a woman who finds her true self in the distorting mirrors of the intelligence game.” —The Sunday Times (UK)

“Mawer’s period detail is perfect, and his prose impeccable. Mawer’s greatest creation is undoubtedly Marian herself… Beautifully inferred and brilliantly imagined… It is difficult to create a character with genuine charisma, but Mawer seems to have managed it with Marian. She is indeed perhaps the closest thing to a female James Bond in English literature.” —The Guardian (UK)

“Mawer captures Marian’s disorientation with affecting conviction. His feeling for time and place remains impressively sharp, from rationing-era London to the ‘strange, febrile vitality’ of post-war Paris. Marian remains a compelling heroine, whose many contradictions are all believable.” —The Daily Telegraph (UK)

“Mawer sensitively evokes the crushing normality of post war Britain and the struggle of a woman who has lived in high definition to forge a new life in a grey world.” —The Times (UK)

“…Sutro is a singular creation—a fascinating and compelling character and the account of how she becomes caught up in Cold War espionage is enthralling.” —The Sunday Mirror

“Marian is at the heart of the novel. …She is a thoroughly and impressively imagined character.” —The Scotsman (UK)

“A compelling Cold War story… told by a series of flashbacks… The start’s a slow burn, but Mawer soon grips you with his labyrinthine plot.” —The Tatler (UK)

“In Marian, Mawer has created an attractively awkward figure — damaged, resilient, self-contained and needing danger in order to become truly herself. …It is Mawer’s focus on character as much as on action, and on recognizing the morally complex worlds in which those characters operate, that inescapably calls John le Carré to mind. Comparisons can be invidious though: Mawer is no acolyte and here shows again his own distinctive talent.” —The Financial Times (UK)

Tightrope is a nuanced spy novel akin to the best work of John le Carré, in that it bypasses the cloak-and-dagger conventions in pursuit of the noble flaws, foibles and idiosyncrasies that lie at the heart of the most fascinating spies. …Mawer delivers an absorbing tale about an extraordinary woman who finds her understanding of duty, patriotism and honour ripped to shreds by epoch-defining circumstances.” —The Irish Times

“Simon Mawer weaves a engrossing tale of personal suffering, survival, espionage and all those experiences that follow the life of an intelligence agent trying to navigate the world after the horrendous events of the war. He also reveals the political issues of the post-war era during the early developmental days of the atomic bomb and the fears of the Cold War. Mawer skillfully maneuvers through the intricacies and suspense of the intelligence community in a very personal way as he delves into the intimate lives of Marion Sutro and those close to her. A fascinating look at the past in the midst of a good nail-biting story. Loved it!” —Stephanie Crowe, Page & Palette (Fairhope, AL)

“Picking up where he left off in Trapeze, Mawer reacquaints readers with Marian Sutro, whose role with the WWII Special Operations Executive resulted in interrogation, incarceration, and the brutalities of a concentration camp. Returning to London, Sutro attempts to put her life back together, but players from her past reemerge, leading her down the familiar paths of deceit and deception, this time within the shifting landscape of the Cold War. Mawer brilliantly blends fact and fiction, and what results is a gripping tale of suspense, intrigue, and espionage.” —Poisoned Pen, (Scottsdale AZ)


  1. In one conversation with Absolon, the narrator explains that Marian “felt like [she was] walking a tightrope, feeling the balance, knowing that a slight shift to either side might be fatal” (p 328). What does the “tightrope” of the title refer to?
  1. Marian and Sam (the narrator) spend a weekend putting together a puzzle of “Millais’s painting of Ophelia drowning” (170). Sam returns to the image of the drowning Ophelia again and again. What does this image symbolize? Are there any similarities between Marian and Ophelia?
  1. Describe Marian’s relationship with language. (See “Words don’t do it, do they?” p 223; “…once out in the open [her experiences] would be transformed by words, a string of words, into something that would never match the reality” p 194; “Her mind stumbled over…meanings and implications, all the hidden connotations in the code of ordinary language” p 141.)
  1. When she hears about the bombs being dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Marian experiences deep feelings of guilt. What is Marian’s relationship with guilt? What else does she feel guilty about? When does she express an absence of guilt?
  1. Tightrope is narrated not by Marian, but by Sam, an acquaintance of hers. He often intrudes on the narrative to draw attention to the fact that it’s something he’s constructing (see “I confess I’ve made this up” p 196). How does his voice affect the narrative of the novel?
  1. On page 496 Marian says, “I’ve never been very faithful to one man, have I, Sam?” Why do you think Marian’s sexuality is such a major aspect of the novel?
  1. What is the difference between how the public world sees Marian and how she sees herself? Is there ever a person Marian interacts with who comes close to understanding her as she understands herself, or does she remain singular, aloof?
  1. Throughout Tightrope Marian often finds herself feeling, or actually being, naked. How does her relationship with nakedness change and fluctuate over the course of the novel?
  1. Marian uses several names over the course of the novel: Marian Sutro, Genevieve Marchal, Laurence Follette, Anne Marie Laroche. What does the use of so many names signify about her sense of identity?
  1. At the end of the novel we learn that Marian has written a biography. She says it’s about “When [she] was a heroine” (p 498). What kind of a heroine is Marian Sutro?