V-2: A Novel of World War 2
© 2020 Robert Harris
The Wehrmacht is being pushed from western Europe, and the Waffen-SS is reeling in eastern Europe. The Luftwaffe flies no more. And yet Germany fights on, and the dreams of brilliant young men who once looked to the stars with longing are now corrupted into feeble attempts to spite the Allies by rocket-bombs. Against them, Britain has developed an experimental radar group; coupled with able use of trigonometry, the launch sites of these rockets may be exposed by math even as they hide from cameras. V-2 honors the contribution made by women like Eileen Younghusband, in a story covering the rise of the Mechelen group, pitting them against a frustrated German engineer who at every launch wishes his rockets were pushing humanity into space — not simply crashing through the roofs of Woolworths. Although not as ambitious as Harris’ other works, V-2 succeeds in its portrayal of an often-overlooked aspect of the war.
V-2 hops back and forth across the channel, putting us into the lives of an English WAAF officer, Kay Caton-Walsh, and a German engineer, Dr. Graf. Both are sympathetic sorts; Graf, despite his position in the V-2 program, finds von Braun far too happy to consort with Hitler, and is himself so unconvincing a Nazi that the SS watch him constantly. He and von Braun both were young enthusiasts for pushing humanity into space, but is even the moon a fitting reward for a man’s soul? Kay, too, has a little moral quandry; having taken up with a married wing commander, her efforts to expose the German launch sites carry double weight in proving that she didn’t just sleep her way into the experimental group, but is there through her native talent and willingness to shoulder hard work. Through them and the people they interact with, we experience the war’s deprivations, the social distress it created, and the confused loyalties.
Harris is one of my rare read-without-a-question authors, and though V-2 wasn’t nearly as ambitious and intricate as his other thrillers, I deeply enjoyed the WW2 detail, and the light it shed on the V2 program and Britain’s countermeasures against it. Historical coverage of the V2 program only appears in American history books as a curiosity, or as the prelude in books on the space race, so I was exceptionally interested in the plot here.
I’ll definitely be picking this up in paperback. The operation against the V weapons @ the end of WW2 is one of my favourite WW2 topics. BTW – I’m 4-5 books away from reviewing ‘The Second Sleep’. It’s going to be a bit of a rant I’m afraid!! [lol]
I’ll look forward to it! I loved the setup of that one but was disappointed by the ending…it just fizzled out.
Oh, the ending was *terrible*! One of the worst I’ve ever come across. I think he either just gave up or couldn’t think where to go next. Although it was was well told I’d deeply question almost all of the backstory and a lot of the main story too! But you’ll see in about 2-3 weeks [grin]
The novel hooked me because I went in genuinely thinking it was historical fiction, and then when I encountered the paragraph that mentioned plastic artifacts, I was taken completely by surprise. My reading came to a full stop as I chewed on it for a bit! I’ve got something on order that’s similar…a continuation of Jim Kunstler’s “World Made by Hand” series. I’m rather in the mood for end of the world type novels at the moment.. .can’t imagine why!
LOL – I *know* what you mean. I definitely have a post-apocalyptic reading head on right now. Like you I have no idea why…. [grin] I’d heard it wasn’t what it seemed but knew for certain as soon as the parakeet flew over the main character. Funnily I was reading in a US newspaper review of the book the musing that the ‘collapse’ must have been climate related because of the ‘evidence’ of that bird (mentioned several times in the text). Nope – we have parakeets flying around ATM in parts of the South East. Apparently there’s SO many of them that they’re quite the pest in some areas!
The bird didn’t register with me! I imagine the parakeets come from escaped pet populations? Unless they’re migratory, like those swallows that carry ’round coconuts..
Yes, escaped pets. No one expected them to survive. But they actually thrived. It’s a weird old world we live in!
The story of the V2 and the Mechelen group is a fascinating one. I have read a few histories if space exploration that covered this subject. A fictionalized account can also be interesting. Though it has been a long time since I read it, James Michener‘s Space contained a fictionalized but fact based account of the Michener group.
I hadn’t heard of that one! I thought he just wrote giant novels set in the west. Glad to know this area HAS been touched on before.