“My name is Serena Frome (rhymes with plume) and almost forty years ago I was sent on a secret mission for the British Security Service, I didn’t return safely. Within eighteen months of joining I was sacked, having disgraced myself and ruined my lover, though he certainly had a hand in his own undoing.”
This is the opening paragraph – I was hooked instantly.
There is a bit of background about Serena, the eldest daughter of an English bishop and a speed reader, lover of all forms and genres of literature. She is also adept with math and so, even though she has no interest in pursuing a career in math, her mother forces the issue and bottom line is, Serena is enrolled in Cambridge studying math. It’s there she meets a professor who will change her life. Tony Canning will influence Serena is ways she will never be aware until years later. He pushes her toward a career with MI5, something she wasn’t necessarily keen to do but…….well, I don’t want to give away too much if you haven’t read it.
Serena Frome invents a cover story for her job with MI5, something completely unnecessary as she isn’t an agent. The women hired on performed mostly clerical duties but something about Serena (to be revealed later in the book) gives her an edge to an undercover job. Her family thinks she deals with paperwork and the job she describes would make one lapse into a deep sleep.
She is promoted from filing to work with the project dubbed “Sweet Tooth.” The agency is tasked with finding authors or academics who are anti-communist and also in need of financial assistance to write their novels. This is meant to counteract communist literature and hype in the 1970s, during the cold war. Naturally Serena is thrilled not only for the promotion but a chance to work in a field she is comfortable, something she loves – literature.
A colleague warns her that in intelligence work “the line between what people imagine and what’s actually the case can get very blurred. . . . You imagine things — and you can make them come true.”
It’s not a foodie book, but food was mentioned briefly in a few scenes.
Serena and Tony walked through the woods behind his Suffolk country cottage; her mind was on making love but Tony was thinking only of mushrooms and crepes. That evening he cooked up a pan iof what he preferred to call porcini, with olive oil, pepper, salt and pancetta. They are this with grilled polenta, salad and red wine. A Barolo.
With Tom I think Serena found a genuine love. Different than her love for Tony Canning, notes of deception and betrayal by both parties, and unbeknownst to both parties as well. How is that possible? The last chapter reveals all.
Tom and Serena were regulars at Wheeler’s fish restaurant and treated as honored guests when they arrived, semi drunk from too much Chablis at home before walking to the restaurant. It helped that tom over-tipped the waiters. They always ordered “the usual” for a starter which was two glasses of champagne and a dozen oysters.
“I’m not sure we liked the idea of them, the oval arrangement of barnacled ancient life among the parsley and halved lemons and, glinting opulently in the candlelight, the bed of ice, the silver dish, the polished cruet of chili sauce”
I am going to spring for the champagne or just go with the more comforting food of fried polenta and pancetta and mushrooms when I post this at Novel Meals. Right now we have lots of ice on our field (I live in Florida) and not being used to that, I may opt to share the comfort food. Will update as I eat!
I am sharing this with Feeling Fictional for the British Book Challenge
Paperback: 400 pages
Publisher: Anchor; Reprint edition (July 2, 2013)