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.