Somehow, I don’t know how, I stopped reading William Boyd over the past decade. Was it the unappealing Armadillo, or the tedious Nat Tate, or the self-indulgent essays in Bamboo? At any rate, Boyd is back with a new publisher, a new novel and his old form.
Restless is that rare pleasure, a story that grips you from the first page and doesn’t let go until the last. Ruth, an irritable single mother and Oxford graduate who is wasting her life teaching English as a second language, has always been told by her own mother, Sally, that ‘One day someone will come and kill me and then you’ll be sorry.’ This threat turns out to be true. Sally is really Eva Delectorskaya, a Russian recruited as a spy just before the Second World War by the suave and rather sinister Lucas Romer. He tells her that if she works for him, he will get her an English passport. Beautiful Eva soon turns out to be a dab hand at disseminating disinformation through the press. Taught to lie, never to trust, always to have a safe house and to memorise whatever she needs to, she does so well that before long the secret counter-intelligence unit is sent to America to try and draw it into the War. Eva and Lucas become lovers, although Ruth knows he is not her father. So why is it that now, in 1976, she wants her daughter to find Lucas and confront him?
Ruth, given her mother’s story in alternate chapters, is at first disbelieving, then suspicious, before being caught up in a web of intrigue woven by a woman as clever as Scheherazade. She has her own problems in the shape of her small son’s German uncle, a ludicrously funny ex porno