Review: Code Name Hélène by Ariel Lawhon

Title: Code Name Hélène

Author: Ariel Lawhon

Published: March 31st 2020, Simon & Schuster Australia

Read: March 2020 courtesy Simon & Schuster Australia

++++++

My Thoughts:

Code Name Hélène by Ariel Lawhon is an exciting and absorbing novel of historical fiction based on the extraordinary wartime experiences of Nancy Wake.

The story unfolds from Nancy’s first person perspective over two timelines. The first, beginning in 1936, focuses on her life in Paris as a journalist, as a newlywed, and as a people and document smuggler known as Lucienne Carlier, which earns her the moniker of ‘The White Mouse’ with a bounty of five million francs in her head. The second timeline reveals her incredible role with the Maquis in southern France as a British Special Operations Executive where she is known as Madam André, code name Hélène, and leads a Resistance force of thousands during the last months of World War II.

Lawhon takes only minor liberties with the facts to tell Nancy’s amazing story whose courageous actions earned her a dozen wartime medals from four countries. Nancy, who died in 2011 aged 98, was an intelligent, attractive, and feisty woman who wore Victory Red lipstick as armour and a cyanide pill on her cuff. She could drink like a fish, and swear like a sailor, or sip cocktails and make polite conversation in a spine revealing cocktail dress. She was a friend, a smuggler, a wife, a spy, a fighter, a leader, she was, and remains, a hero.

All but one of the major characters in Code Name Hélène were real people, from Nancy’s contacts in the Resistance, to her beloved husband. She married wealthy industrialist Henri Fiocca just before Germany invaded France but they were soon separated when he was sent to the border to fight and again, when shortly after his return, Nancy’s actions attracted the attention of the Gestapo and she was forced to flee Paris. Their relationship is a significant and moving element of the novel.

I was completely caught up in Code Name Hélène from its first pages. I thought it very well paced as it moved between timelines, both of which built a sense of anticipatory tension, though there is more outright action during Nancy’s tenure with the Maquis.

Code Name Hélène is not just a story of adventure and romance, but also one of friendship, courage, tragedy, and hope. Until now I’ve known nothing of Nancy Wake, but I have every intention of tracking down a copy of her autobiography to learn more. Nancy Wake was an extraordinary woman, and Lawhon has written an extraordinary story which honours her.

++++++

Available from Simon & Schuster Australia

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository I Indiebound

17 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Carol
    Mar 31, 2020 @ 17:58:26

    I want to read this one!

    Like

    Reply

  2. Kathryn
    Mar 31, 2020 @ 19:17:56

    Okay this has to be one WW2 book I read, we had a school journal story about her when I was teaching that was really good and I know a book like this will be so much more. Great review.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

  3. Verushka, an editor (@SydneyEditor1)
    Mar 31, 2020 @ 20:40:05

    Nancy Wake was amazing, wasn’t she? I have to constantly remind myself this — she — is real and this isn’t a movie lol

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

  4. Marg
    Mar 31, 2020 @ 21:57:13

    I need to read this one!

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

  5. kaysreadinglife
    Apr 01, 2020 @ 05:17:24

    I think this book sounds really interesting and well done. Isn’t it great that women who were not well known to us, but were such heroes. are having their stories told? Thanks for featuring this one.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

  6. Jennifer
    Apr 01, 2020 @ 13:42:20

    Great review. I loved this book.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

  7. Tammy
    Apr 03, 2020 @ 00:03:15

    I’ve seen lots of people talk about this book. It sounds really good!

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

  8. Helen Murdoch
    Apr 03, 2020 @ 04:49:57

    This sounds so good! Thank you for the recommendation

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

  9. Susan
    Apr 03, 2020 @ 07:24:52

    Oh I’m glad you liked this one — as I’ve been thinking of picking it up. Sounds like a lively novel of a courageous woman in the Resistance.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

  10. 1girl2manybooks
    Apr 03, 2020 @ 20:24:25

    I have this one to read – didn’t quite get to it in March, will have to try and prioritise it

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

  11. Trackback: Six Degrees of Separation: Stasiland to A Beautiful Place To Die | book'd out
  12. Trackback: It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? | book'd out
  13. litandlife
    Apr 06, 2020 @ 10:42:15

    I felt the same about this one – got totally sucked into the story and was so surprised to find out it was essentially a true story. Although I should have know, since Lawhon’s books always are!

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

  14. Davida Chazan
    Apr 13, 2020 @ 15:47:20

    I also loved this book!

    Like

    Reply

  15. Theresa Smith Writes
    Apr 13, 2020 @ 17:23:17

    I thought I had this one coming for review but it turns out mine is called Liberation and it’s published by Hachette. How does this happen, do you think? Two fiction accounts of Nancy Wake released so close together?

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

I want to know what you think! Your comments are appreciated.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s