‘Edith and Kim’ by Charlotte Philby
To betray, you must first belong…
In June 1934, Kim Philby met his Soviet handler, the spy Arnold Deutsch. The woman who introduced them was called Edith Tudor-Hart. She changed the course of 20th century history.
Then she was written out of it.
Drawing on the Secret Intelligence Files on Edith Tudor-Hart, along with the private archive letters of Kim Philby, this finely worked, evocative and beautifully tense novel – by the granddaughter of Kim Philby – tells the story of the woman behind the Third Man. (Synopsis courtesy of https://harpercollins.co.uk/products/edith-and-kim-charlotte-philby)
Occasionally a novel comes along which lives up to the hype. Charlotte Philby has made a career writing novels which live in the space between contemporary literary and the espionage genre.
She has explored the roles of women and the structural inequalities which lead to poor choices and dangerous paths for her characters in contemporary capitalist societies.
And now she has gone back in time. Back to the time of her grandfather’s recruitment by the NKVD and back to the time when Edith Tudor-Hart was photographing and recruiting the young and the idealistic to her cause and being instrumental in creating the most important spy ring of the twentieth century.
What follows is a novel of quite stunning ambition and scope. Philby takes us on the journey of Tudor-Hart as she encounters the turbulent unrest of Austria in the 20s, the Bauhaus, England as class struggle rears its head in the most obvious fashion and on to the sad ending which a life of having to hide your choices seems to lead to with inevitability.
Charlotte Philby is a novelist of rare scope and talent but here she employs her enthusiasm for split narratives to weave a tapestry through time and her characters which lends a spiralling inevitability to the outcome without ever being dull.
‘Edith and Kim’ is many things: a novel of rare scope in time and historical significance; an elegiac wander through the dream world of espionage and the impact of decisions taken in youth which echo through the decades; an increasingly rare epistolary novel, intercut with domestic security services’ reports. It is also a tale of a much over-looked figure in the history of spying, marginalised by her gender.
Finally, it is a novel which promotes Philby fully to the top ranks of writers in the field working today. “A novel only [insert name of writer her]” is an oft used trope in promoting literature.
But this is a novel only Charlotte Philby could have written. The heady mix of her personal history, her understanding of the societal issues which render women – especially talented and “difficult” women – ripe for expunging from the record make this a triumph of a piece.
Charlotte Philby left The Independent in 2014 – where she was an editor, reporter and columnist for eight years and shortlisted for the 2013 Cudlipp prize at the Press Awards. She has worked as a contributing editor at Marie Claire, written freelance for publications including The New Statesman, Tatler, The Guardian, The Telegraph, The Sunday Times, ELLE, Red, and more. Philby has also been a guest on Front Row, Woman’s Hour, NPR’s Note to Self podcast, Free Thinking, and Loose Ends, as well as presenting documentaries for The One Show and the World Service. A speaker at literary festivals from Cheltenham to Chiswick, she is currently working on a new major podcast for 2022. (Adapted from https://charlottephilby.com)
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