When I first came upon the title Code Name Verity
, I was really looking forward to reading it. I generally do enjoy war stories, both on film and in books, and Code Name Verity
offers something different for younger readers with its focus on women WWII pilots. I thought this would be rather interesting. However, I am sorry to say that I was rather disappointed with the story.
Part of my disappointment stems from Elizabeth Wein’s author’s note, stating that she was weaving fact with fiction in order to make a good story—stretching ideas and events in order to make them seem plausible. I don’t entirely understand why she did this...I felt she could have easily changed the setting to the latter part of the war, i.e. after 1943 when women pilots in the ATA were permitted to fly without restriction. This setting choice, I ultimately felt to be a detraction to Wein’s story. As Wein’s story stands, pilot Maddie is constantly skirting around rules and regulations to do what she wants most: fly. For me, Maddie’s constant bending of the rules made the story seem more and more implausible as the story progressed, especially since Maddie’s punishment for her court-martial offenses are at most a slap on the wrist. Maddie’s poor judgment in decision making detracted from the seriousness of the story and the events taking place. Had the story been set at a later point in time, Wein could have focused more on the kinds of missions these women pilots faced, which would have lead to more intrigue, and made for a more interesting story from Maddie’s point of view.
Thus, characterization also hurts the storyline. Maddie is essentially a child placed into a position of power. She doesn’t seem ready to take on the responsibilities she is given. She is easily influenced by her own desires and her peers. Conflicted thoughts often lead her to follow the wrong track. Though she does feel culpability for her choices and their consequences, at times it feels insincere and almost flippant. Whenever she feels bad, she is ready to “bawl” at a moment’s notice. Even though the reader is not really meant to feel this way about Maddie, over time I couldn’t help but feel a lack of sympathy towards Maddie’s constant outbursts of emotion. Yet regardless, Maddie somehow manages to survive and make the best of her situation. In this sense, she reminds me of Liz Grainger from the BBC series Wish Me Luck
That said, I did like Queenie. In essence, she is everything Maddie isn’t in terms of character. Even though they are roughly the same age, Queenie is so much older in regards to experience and is fully able to assume the responsibilities given to her. She is a girl who doesn’t mess about. Perhaps this difference in temperament is the foundation for their mutual attraction and friendship. However, I did find some fault with Queenie’s story as well. Though Wein does dip slightly into the emotional and psychological effects of imprisonment, for the most part, Wein provides a surface telling of the events. Her writing style is not as severe as the stoic monotone of Sebastian Faulks in Birdsong
, but it does veer close to a reporter’s writing style with its detailed description of facts and events taking place during wartime. I honestly did not mind the descriptions of piloting, etc., yet at the same time, I also found myself wishing Wein could have developed the psychological aspects she does allude to in the story.
I will end on a positive note. I really liked how Wein ended her story. It is the perfect place. It doesn’t force additional complications and emotions that I felt would have had no real place in the story, especially given everything that had happened. Wein definitely made a good choice.