Vivienne de la Mare waits nervously for the bombs to come. Instead comes occupation. Nothing is safe anymore. But was anything truly safe before?
The façade of the perfect wife, with her husband fighting on the frontline, cracks under the strain of the lie. Her new life is one where the enemy lives next door. Small acts of kindness from one Nazi soldier feels like a betrayal. A forbidden friendship in a frightening world. But how can you hate your enemy when you know his name, when he makes you feel alive, when everything else is dying around you?
Vivienne is fighting her own private war. On one side, the safe, secret, loving world she could build with her captain; on the other, virtuous loneliness and danger. It’s time for Vivienne to choose: collaboration or resistance…
A two word review of The Collaborator would be “thought-provoking”. Set in the Crown Dependency Island Guernsey during WWII, The Collaborator raises some interesting questions. Can we really call someone our enemy without them having personally slighted us? When they appear to be kind and thoughtful and ready to help out? When they are your enemy based on a war that is not occurring in front of your eyes but somewhere far away?
Leroy goes all out by writing her male lead as a German soldier, the most reviled characters of WWII. She refrained from writing Gunther as SS, because there would be no redeeming qualities in such a person and her book would have flopped. Gunther is merely a man that is fighting for his country and actually grateful to live on the small island and not to further Hitler’s mad plans around the world. He misses his old life, and Vivienne and Gunther are able to create some fragile contentment in their lives for a while. As the war continues Vivienne finds it more difficult to remain impassive about it and questions how much Gunther is also turning a blind eye too. Can the two exit the war unscathed?
Leroy wrote this book with an underlying tension. The feeling is so dreary and tense. It brings the reader to ground level and makes you question your beliefs about a lot of things – religion, the Germans in a time where everyone hated the Germans. Vivienne starts to crack as the soldier’s wife – she knew her husband cheated on her before the war, he made her feel inadequate and he was already emotionally removed from her when he left to go to war. Can we blame her for cracking? Do we dare? Max and Gunther, part of the German army, are seemingly good men fighting for their country’s honor. They aren’t evil bastards running death camps, they are soldiers working on a small island doing as they are instructed. They face harsh punishment and certain death if they rebel. Some in their group aren’t as kind as these two, which leads to some complications later on as one would expect.
What I consider a huge improvement from the previous Leroy novel I read, The Lake House, is that Vivienne actually cares for and considers her children a great deal. Millie and Blanche are a few years apart and both pose a different challenge to Vivienne – Millie is young and requires a lot of care, while Blanche is on the verge of the rest of her life and struggling to remain a young teenager when the world around her is crumbling and harsh. On top of these troubles is Vivienne’s elderly mother-in-law, who can be extremely forgetful and dangerously attentive at times. So can we really judge her for seeking her comfort with a kind, understanding German soldier? I couldn’t.
The book has some surprises in store – the awakening of Vivienne’s determination to do something for the prisoners of war, the twisting at unexpected times and the very sad and bleak end. I’m not usually one for such a depressing end, but it suited the tone of the book – war is a cruelty that changes people and destroys lives.
The Collaborator probably wouldn’t be enjoyed by everyone. I liked it though – it kept me in such suspense most of the time and I kept thinking about it while I wasn’t reading it, a sure sign that a book is a good read.