THE ROSE CODE by Kate Quinn, narrated by Saskia Maarleveld

What a book! Usually when one reads a volume in which there are three main female characters, it gets very girly, very silly and very superficial very quickly.

This does not.

Osla Kendall, a socialite with ambition, is chosen to work at Bletchley Park because of her language skills. (She can speak German fluently.) But in a turn of events that is so typical it makes one cringe, she spends over a year doing a little light filing, and has to push for a transfer so that she actually uses those skills to save lives. Oslo pretends to be a “dizzy Deb,”  but is much more intelligent than her drawling upper-class accent suggests. When she is accused of stealing files, she stands up for herself, and goes looking for the thief.  In nosing around, she discovers that security at Bletchley Park is woefully lax. As a person of honor & integrity, she immediately goes to her superior to report on this fact, staging a demonstration to prove her point.

Wouldn’t it have been wonderful if  he had listened intently, taken her suggestions seriously, and immediately set about making changes? Instead, he blows her off and nothing happens. I found this episode brilliantly illustrative of the way in which young women in the 1940s were ignored and not taken seriously (not unlike the way they are treated today, 80 years later.)

By contrast, a young man by the name of Giles has no trouble at all getting the attention of the top brass, even involving MI5 in a kidnapping…but I don’t want to spoil the novel by saying more.

Then there is Mab, an impoverished woman from Shoreditch, who accepts a typing position at Bletchley Park partly to find a husband and marry up. But there is more to Mab than that. Like Osla she is a highly intelligent woman whose gifts are not made use of (a) because she is female and (b) because she comes from Shoreditch, a poor corner of London.

Mab’s ambition to marry up reflects the choices available to women at that time. Women who had to work for a living became typists, receptionists, secretaries or sales associates in their teens and early twenties. When they married (usually in their mid to late twenties) they were expected to give up their jobs because it was unthinkable that a married woman could have a career.  As the jobs that were available to them were  low-paying and tedious, most of these women would have wanted to marry, because the right husband would bring a good income and a home with him to the marriage.

Lastly, is the saddest character of all, Beth Finch, who is bullied and tortured by her mother while her father sits by and does nothing. When Mab and Osla burst into her home as  boarders, they set her free and help her discover her true calling in life. But nothing is ever easy for Beth…

If this has not whetted your appetite, then I don’t know what will. THE ROSE CODE is not only meticulously researched, but beautifully written. Five Stars. #katequinn #therosecode