The Alice Network tells the story of two women and two world wars, connected by one profiteering villain. We meet Charlie St. Clair in 1947, newly arrived in Europe with her mother in order to take care of her Little Problem/unwed pregnancy. Charlie has her own plans though and soon escapes from her mother in order to search for her beloved cousin Rose in France, who hasn’t been heard from since 1943. Charlie’s search brings her to Evelyn Gardiner, a bitter old woman who has her own reasons for wanting to find out what happened to Rose.
Half of the book – the novel’s present – follows Charlie and Eve and Finn (Eve’s dashing Scottish driver) as they travel through England and France, tracing Rose’s path and Eve’s past. The other half – told in alternating chapters – is Eve in 1915. Here we see how, as a young woman, Eve joined what was known as the Alice Network, a network of female spies led by a charming, enigmatic woman named Lili. As we learn of Eve’s past, the connection between her story and Rose’s becomes more clear.
The story here is fun and adventurous and predictable. The character of Lili and the Alice Network itself are based in historical fact and it obviously makes for an exciting story. These daring women exist in a social grey zone. Their work is valuable but unladylike. Dangerous and isolating. The stories of Eve and Charlie, especially the 1947 section, are fairly predictable. Action plays out about how you might expect in a way that is satisfying but easy. Quinn seems to rely on the same few tensions to move the story along, most noticeably pregnancy. All the main characters seem to be pregnant at some point. Which sets up this perhaps unintentional idea that women must choose either adventure or domesticity. For Eve especially we seem to be told that she could never have a normal life, being too dynamic a person, as if motherhood or secret spy are the only two options. While I may be slightly more sensitive to this as a suburban mom myself, I do wish The Alice Network had explored a greater variety of women’s issues. Or at least provided a more surprising storyline. As it is, this is an easy read that won’t leave you thinking about it too long.