Wow! If you love historic fiction, you need to read Code Name Hélène. If you celebrate feminism, you need to read Code Name Hélène. Basically you need to read Code Name Hélène! It is the truly stunning novel based on Nancy Wake, who was a was a real-life woman, spy and military leader in World War 2.
Nancy Wake was a true living heroine and the world needs to celebrate her. For the life of me I cannot understand why many of us have never known about Nancy until now. But thankfully, because of Ariel Lawhon telling Nancy’s story in such a gripping, captivating novel, we will all now know about Nancy and the unbelievable mark she left on history.
This book consumed me, shocked me and inspired me. An Australian journalist living and working in France, she actually interviewed Hitler in the early 30s, but because she was female and unknown, Hitler only allotted thirty minutes for the interview. At the time, this was just an assignment to Nancy, underestimating the impact he would have on the world. However Hitler clearly underestimated Nancy also.
Code Name Hélène brilliantly reflects Nancy’s character full of humour, courage and attitude. She never went into battle without her favourite armour – red lipstick. When she met her future husband before the war, French industrialist Henri Fiocca, he insisted teaching her three things to help her embrace French culture – learn how to ride a bicycle; learn how to drink; and learn how to swear. She used these skills to great effect when she became the military leader of thousands of French men fighting the Nazis, enabling her to earn their grudging respect in addition to saving her own life and those around her.
This graphic novel skilfully using a dual timeline to portray Nancy’s character and her evolution into a warrior and military leader. It documents the love story between Nancy and Henri with humour, beauty and respect. Then as the Nazis invade her beloved France, it details Nancy’s involvement with the French Resistance as a smuggler; becoming so skilled in the role that the Nazis call her the White Mouse and put a 5 million franc ransom on her head. After escaping France, Nancy joins an elite special forces group in London, training in espionage. It is at this point that she adopts the code name Hélène.
The other timeline starts from 1944, dramatically opening the novel when Nancy is parachuted back into France to fight the Nazis. This is also the first time Nancy has jumped from a plane; she only feels brave enough to do the parachute jump after applying her armour – her red lipstick!. It is at this point that she becomes the deadly military leader, Madam Andrée.
I’ve got to be honest with you, there are some harrowing scenes in this novel. These scenes are so barbaric and inhumane that I did struggle to read them However these are scenes that Nancy witnessed in real life. They also express Nancy’s humanity, determination and resilience. But also I can’t emphasise enough, this is also a beautiful, gripping book with clear snapshots of humour and brimming with personality and love. I truly adored this book and was devastated to finish it.
There are very few novels that totally take my breath away, but Code Name Hélène did many times for many, many reasons. It is truly stunning historic fiction that needs to be read.
Code Name Hélène is published digitally on 31st March 2020 (it will be available as a hardback in 2021). If you can read via digital format I urge you to grab your copy NOW! Believe me, this is the perfect lockdown read! I genuinely think I’ll be reading it again whilst in lockdown.
A massive thank you to Anne Cater from Random Things Tours for inviting me to be part of the blog tour to promote such a brilliant book. It has been a sheer privilege. A massive thank you must also go to Ariel Lawhon for bringing Nancy to life in such a gripping, tender, humorous style.
To read the reviews from my fellow book bloggers also on the blog tour of Code Name Hélène, please see below.