I find myself strangely enamoured with historical fiction right now. I like to think if I ever managed to write a book it would be historical fiction (though to be fair I am not that talented). Code Name Hélène, is the fictionalised story of Nancy Wake, who was an Asutralian expat living in France as a journalist during and leading up to World War Two, where she became a highly decorated operative, working with the Marquisards and living in the forest with them during 1944-45.
I was actually very familiar with Nancy Wake’s story, as I have both her autobiography and Peter Fitzsimmons book Nancy Wake sitting in my bookcase, both of which are well-loved. Because of this, I was able to tell fairly easily what parts of Code Name Hélène had been changed to make the story work as a first-person piece of fiction.
The story is told in dual timeframe, both 1936 (incorrect) when Nancy met her husband Henri, and there are a few pages littered through the book which are written from Henri’s perspective. Nancy was working as a journalist in the lead up to WW2, indeed Nancy actually interviewed Hitler prior to the war beginning.
The second (though intermingled) part of the story is 1944 with Nancy as an SOE Operative working and living with the French Resistance. She and fellow operatives Denden and Hubert aid in the fight against the Nazi’s. They have many, many encounters against the Germans, and end with a fighting troop of over 10,000, with Nancy as their leader.
I’m going to be very honest, I didn’t love the book. Probably because of the prior knowledge that I had about Nancy. I also found it rather slow and thought that the book could probably have been cut down. Despite this I adore Nancy’s bravery and will likely read another Ariel Lawhon book in the near future…. I believe there is a Russian book coming my way.