When the pandemic hits New York, her ex-husband William convinces Lucy Barton to leave the city and to come to live with him in a house in a small town in Maine, by the sea. Lucy trusts Williams, in these fields he knows much better what to do and thus, she leaves her apartment behind, while their two daughters also flee the metropolis. Lucy experiences the first weeks and months like many of us did: life has come to a standstill, everybody is afraid of the fatal virus and interaction with human beings is reduced to the absolute minimum. However, this new situation also offers room for reflection and questioning decisions made, things said and done and all that ultimately matters in life.
I was not really sure if I was already willing to read a novel in which the pandemic was a central aspect while the virus is still raging. However, I totally adore Elizabeth Strout’s novels and since I have met Lucy Barton before, I was looking forwards to “Lucy by the Sea”. As anticipated, I found the novel a wonderful read, slow in pace, which was simply perfect for the time portrayed and the topic, and deeply reflective which I personally perceived just like an invitation for myself, to take some time and seize the chance of the standstill to look back and ponder on where I have come from and where I want to go to.
Apart from the new rules in life – keeping a distance, wearing a mask, obeying lockdown – Elizabeth Strout again focuses on the fragile and complex family bonds that her characters are born in and cannot escape. William finds a part of his family and gets closer when everybody is getting more distant; their daughters Chrissy and Becka have grown up and find a renewed sisterly bond. Lucy has to accept that the girls have become independent and do not need their mother that much anymore. But also the couples’ relationships are put to a test. William and Lucy have been friendly for some time after their divorce, but can living under the same roof work? Lucy comes to understand that love can take different forms and is expressed in diverse ways and loving also means that losing is hard.
Without a doubt one of this year’s absolute highlights. The protagonist feels like a dear and close friend and towards the end, I did not want the novel to stop, but just to go on forever. Elizabeth Strout, again, has not only captured the mood of the pandemic and chronicled our lives but also demonstrates her deep insight in our human condition and what makes us real humans.
A poisoned Russian dissident, an investigative journalist on the run and a non-descript German banker. Linking these three is not easy for Gabriel Allon but he will most certainly not just watch when one of his friends who once saved his life is killed with Novichok. The traces soon lead to Isabel Brenner who works at RhineBank in Zurich, the world’s dirtiest bank. Apart from calculating risks and laundering money, she also plays the cello like a professional. Deceived by her misogynist co-workers, she starts to leak information about the “Russian Laundromat”, the bank’s way of cleaning Russian oligarchs’ rubles. It does not take long for her to be convinced to work with Gabriel Allon to bring the bank and the Russians to fall. Their main target is Arkady Akimov but he himself is actually only a small figure, it is somebody much bigger and much more influential who is behind the Russian money.
In the twenty-first novel of the series about the legendary Israeli spy and art restorer turned into director-general of the world famous intelligence service, Daniel Silva focusses on another current topic: the political influence which money can buy, especially money which was acquired illegally and washed through layers of fake firms by banks which are only too willing to profit. The author also managed to incorporate the Covid restrictions as well as the challenges to the American democracy that we have witnessed in January 2021 making it highly topical.
The cellist is a remarkable character, on the one hand, she is a highly intelligent cool mathematician who knows how to juggle with numbers and money. On the other hand, as a woman, she experiences the misogynist behaviour of her colleagues in a dominantly male business and despite her skills is prevented from unfolding her full potential. She finds solace in music, the cello she can play on her own and the impact the tone has on her own mood but also on others is amazing.
The Russians are an old but nevertheless still interesting topic in spy novels. It is not the cold war scenario of piling up destructive weapons anymore, the war between the systems is fought a lot more subtly today. Nerve agents like Novichok have become broad knowledge and the fact that money makes the world go round is also well-known. Having the financial means leads to the necessary power to rule the world, regardless of democratic systems and boundaries which only seem to exist on paper.
Silva proves again that he is a masterful storyteller. He brilliantly interweaves different plot lines to create a high paced and suspenseful novel. Still after so many instalments, one does not get exhausted by the protagonist since the author always finds a completely new story to tell.