CBR 14 BINGO: Shadow, because it deals with shedding light on the truth, which is not always what it seems
Code Name Verity has been sitting patiently on my TBR for close to 10 years (having first been published in 2012). I snatched it out of a Little Free Library and thought it would be the perfect entry for the Shadow category in this year’s bingo.
Reviewing this novel without giving away any spoilers is a little difficult, but not impossible if I focus on the themes of identity, truth, strength, and friendship.
The novel opens with the words, “I AM A COWARD.” We learn these words are written by a young Scottish (not English) woman who was captured by the Germans in France during World War II. She is charged with being a spy and will undoubtedly be executed after a trial of sorts. She’s made a deal with her Nazi captors to confess to everything she knows about British airplanes, airfields, and wireless codes in exchange for slightly less horrific treatment (specifically, she asks for her clothes back). Over the course of her confession, we learn about her best friend Maddie, who piloted her to France. Maddie’s plane went down after the narrator parachuted out, and her captors show her photos of the destroyed plane and charred cockpit.
Identity is a key theme in this novel. As indicated by the title, Verity is the narrator’s code name during her mission; however, she goes by several names in the story. Early in her confession, she talks about first meeting Maddie, but she tells the story in third person, and the translator is confused by her mention of someone named Queenie. When asked why she’s speaking about herself that way, she writes, “I suppose the real answer is that I am not Queenie anymore. I just want to thump my old self in the face when I think about her, so earnest and self-righteous and flamboyantly heroic. I am sure other people did too. I am someone else now.” She’s Verity, Queenie, Julie, Eva. . . who is real and who is a character?
Verity, or vé·ri·té, of course, means truth. Is Verity lying in her “confession”? At one point, she hears another prisoner, a French girl, being tortured and screams at her to just lie to save herself. Is that what Verity is doing? Lying? When an American visits the prison to interview Verity as part of a propaganda campaign about how well the German prisoners are treated, she tells Verity, “I’m looking for truth. Je church la vé·ri·té.” Before she leaves, the interviewer has a veiled conversation with Verity in which she asks her if she needs anything, but was really trying to get at Verity’s condition. “It was a rather extraordinary conversation if you think about it–both of us speaking in code. But not military code, not Intelligence or Resistance code–just feminine code.”
As we learn about the relationship between Verity and Maddie, we learn about strength and friendship. “Queenie” is initially portrayed as the cool-headed, capable one, and she is. But Maddie, who lacks Verity’s confidence, demonstrates a strength she never knew she had. When her confidence starts to slip, you hear her mutter a familiar mantra, “Fly the plane, Maddie.”
I’m on the verge of revealing all this book’s secrets, because I want to share just how beautiful the friendship between these two women is. This novel is difficult at times–though, if I’m honest, I felt that the first-person narration wasn’t completely effective in expressing the torture that is inflicted on Verity. Her personality is flippant, so she underplays her physical condition. It wasn’t until later in the novel that the physical and mental abuse became apparent. But this story has a huge payoff in demonstrating the love that exists between these two friends. Although lots of “truths” are questionable in this novel, their loyalty and friendship are never in doubt.