The Long Room

Francesca Kay. Tin House (Norton, dist.), $15.95 trade paper (304p) ISBN 978-1-941040-45-4
Kay’s new book is a brilliant spy novel charged with existential dread. In 1981, as the Cold War sputters on and IRA bombs explode, Stephen Spencer is a listener for the Institute, a subsection of British Intelligence. He spends his days listening to taped conversations of peripheral enemies of the state. One day, he is given a new assignment: to listen to the domestic tapes of Phoenix, an Institute member who might also be a traitor. And as he begins his aural surveillance, Stephen, who leads a lonely existence, soon becomes obsessed with Phoenix’s unseen wife, Helen, imagining her life, and what his life could be like if they were together. He becomes a secret sharer in all the intimate details of her marriage. In order to keep the surveillance going, Stephen puts himself at great risk. He even goes so far as to stalk Helen and visit the apartment building in which she and Phoenix reside. At the same time, he becomes friendly with a mysterious foreigner named Alberic, who figures prominently in Stephen’s last-ditch attempt to meet Helen. Kay (The Translation of Bones) does an excellent job of portraying Stephen’s inner life and his descent into obsession. She also does well at delineating the covert society of Stephen and his fellow listeners. Filled with witty period references to Brideshead Revisited, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and Another Country, this is a haunting work of espionage fiction. (Nov.)
Reviewed on: 09/05/2016
Release date: 11/01/2016
Genre: Fiction
Compact Disc - 978-1-68168-266-2
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