Tanvi's Reviews > Tamar: A Novel of Espionage, Passion, and Betrayal

Tamar by Mal Peet
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Dec 13, 11

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1944 strand (majority of book)

The quality of the writing was what really made me fall in love with Tamar. The author immersed me into the clandestine daily lives of Tamar and Dart, agents of the Special Operations Executive (SOE), an espionage agency of the British during WWII.

The action in Tamar is fast-paced, and the moments of palpable tension here put ‘adult’ books to shame. This is not a bleak book. The war is always in the background, but it’s never hopeless: no gratuitous battles, no excessive violence. More to the point, there are descriptions of secret transmissions in barns, parachuting from planes into Nazi-occupied territory, elaborate disguises and false identities. But Tamar and Dart know their work back to front, and Peet describes it so matter-of-factly that it’s very easy for us to slip inside their heads. This author doesn’t preach. He lets the characters and the writing speak for themselves.

Dart’s characterisation through internal struggle was excellent. I didn’t get as much of a sense of Tamar as an individual, but the accounts of his missions more than made up for that. And Koop de Vries came in late, but I found him one of the most memorable characters in the book. Even minor characters, like Sidona and Trixie, were sketched out beautifully. The only major character I didn’t connect with was Marijke. She was likeable enough, but there was no depth to her. It felt like she was just there to further the plot.

The 1995 subplot, which deals with Tamar’s granddaughter, left me ambivalent. For one thing, the writing is weaker here. In some places it reads like a typical YA book, and the premise - giving your protagonist a box with significant ‘clues’ - feels like a rather contrived plot device to me. Then again, I guess I’m not the target audience for this. Four years ago I would’ve enjoyed it, and I think most teenagers would identify with Tamar. I didn’t find her particularly interesting, but she seemed like a fairly normal fifteen-year-old. The issue of dementia was explored rather well, so kudos on that.

The later half of this section meandered. I’m not sure if that was intentional, given the point of the journey, but the characters just drove around aimlessly. The descriptions of scenery and landmarks bored me, and I felt the space could have been used to better purpose. I would’ve liked to hear about Tamar’s relationship with her father, or perhaps Marijke could’ve been fleshed out a bit.
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