Friday, 22 July 2011

Roxie Reviews: 'Odette' by Jerrard Tickell

Odette Samson (or one of her other countless names used throughout her life) is possibly the most famous allied woman in history. Her work as an SOE spy during 1942 and her mixture of French patronage (and eternal grace granted to so many French women) and English bravery in the face of the atrocities implicated by the Germans awarded her George Cross at the end of the war.

The book 'Odette' by Jerrard Tickell was first published in 1949, and was written with the aid of the great woman herself. This has allowed her 'character' to be unbelievably true to life with the anecdotes conveying the exact feelings and emotions felt by Odette during her war. The French have a strong characteristic of being incredibly loyal to their country and people, and even though adopting England as her home, Odette has an overwhelming connection to her homeland and it's freedom. Even at the end of the book when she is saved by the Americans from the horror of Ravensbr├╝ck she keeps her gentle manners by telling the SS soldiers that accompanied her to run (most likely for their lives) - this is an overall theme through the book that just because the soldiers were German does not necessarily make them Nazi, and they were just following orders from the evil above. Her sense of forgiveness is amazing.

The majority of the book is set in France or within her three imprisonments, with very little being set in England or her life before her SOE work; I can only guess that being having being written in 1949 a lot of the work done in Baker Street was still top secret information. The chapters set in France were very fast paced and I did find them quite confusing to follow (probably not helped by my lack of French speaking skills and a few pieces of information being in French) but the speed only reflected the dangerous excitement experienced by Odette and her comrades. At this point in the novel (is that the genre? Is it a biography? 'Faction' before Capote's 'In Cold Blood'?) Raoul - or Peter Churchill, who became Odette's second husband in 1947 - was my favourite character as he was that 'hero' figure, reminding me of a gallant knight from a Medieval folktale mixed with a bit of James Bond's suave style. However when Odette was imprisoned in the Parisian jail of Fresnes she met a German priest (who was an active soldier stationed at the prison) named Father Paul Heinerz; Father Paul was Odette's humane rock in Fresnes (which was unusual as Odette didn't believe in God, although she occasionally prayed in desperate times) and characterised that war didn't mean your enemy was evil and it affected all walks of life - he was German under the boot of the Third Reich.

So, overall I thoroughly enjoyed this book thanks to the extraordinary real-life story aided by great writing. As a Hamsphire girl I had always had an interest in the county's association with the spy networks across occupied Europe but I had never actively sort out any research on it, but I definitely will now! 'Odette' is the perfect book for anyone with an interest in World War Two, great women through history or who just loves a great adventure.

1 comment:

Tallulah May Vintage Socialite. said...

One very very brave lady, don't make many like her, I would like to think that when push came to shove I could be half as brave as her.