Spy novels have a tendency to include the same ingredients: a miserable childhood, an Oxbridge education, an unhappy love affair, alcoholism, perhaps a touch of obsession. Francesca Kay’s The Long Room and Helen Dunmore’s Exposure both conform to type, and are none the worse for that. Yet while Kay demonstrates that convention is no bar to invention, Dunmore sticks close to the accepted formula.
Set over the two weeks before Christmas 1981 in a freezing London, The Long Room charts the mental unravelling of Stephen, a ‘listener’ in Group III at a mildly Orwellian place known as the Institute. Bored with the ‘creaking dragons’ of British communism whose telephone conversations he has been assigned