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Issue 1787 (PDF)
The student newspaper of Imperial College London

Keep the Cat Free

V2 - Robert Harris

Editor-in-Chief Sam Lovatt reviews Robert Harris' historically unerring fiction about the intertwined paths of a WAAF servicewoman and a German rocket engineer.



in Issue 1787


★ ★ ★ ★
Robert Harris

I began this book a Robert Harris virgin and so am perhaps not the best qualified to review this novel. Everyone I have spoken to about it has instead recommended either the Cicero series, or Fatherland, or both. Nevertheless, in the interest of remaining succinct I will have a stab anyway.

V2 tells two alternating, opposing narratives that run side by side over the course of five days, often to the second. It’s the winter of 1944 and the Germans have all but lost the war in Europe. Desperate for anything flashy that may strike fear into the allied hearts, Hitler throws colossal amounts of money at the Nazi’s ballistic rocket programme, headed by Wernher von Braun, a non-fictional historical figure who also appears in the book. We join the German story with Dr Rudi Graf, a rocket engineer whose dream since he was a little boy has been to go to space. To much internal confliction, Graf’s dream has been hijacked by the Nazi party and he finds himself launching his life’s work from Scheveningen, Netherlands towards London in the for of Vengance 2 (V2) rockets, the most powerful ballistics in the world that travel at three times the speed of sound. Graf is not a member of the Nazi party and never had dreams of causing anyone harm, and is forced to grapple with with this moral dilemma ever more as the Nazi’s hopes become bleaker by the day.

We first see London through the eyes of Kay Caton-Walsh, an officer in the Woman’s Auxiliary Air Force. At just 24, Kay has been plucked straight from Cambridge university and is working in intelligence at a stately home in the English countryside, studying the minute discrepancies between ordenance imagery for signs of enemy activity. All of a sudden, the announcement of a secret, urgent mission and her adulterous connections land her in a select team of WAAF officers tasked with stopping the carnage being wrought by the V2s, the likes of which the world has never seen and which London currently has no hope of stopping.

Despite being relatively short, the books at some points seems like it’s trying to be longer than it needs to. Whether to attempt very subtle character development, or floundering to increase the word count I’m not sure, but both main characters go off on narrative archs that have no real impact on the storyline and could easily have been omitted with nothing of the tale lost.

That being said, and famed for his historical accuracy and dilligent research, Harris delivers a thriller and history lesson wrapped into one. Did you know that there was a potato shortage across the Germany occupied states towards the end of the war, as so many had been taken to be distilled into rocket fuel? Facts are given throughout the novel, highlighting the attrocities of famine and forced labour committed by the axis powers even in their dying days.

I’ve certainly read better thrillers, though I don’t think there are many who would not enjoy sitting down and giving this tome a wide-eyed read.

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