The Irregulars

IrregularsJennet Conant's The Irregulars: Roald Dahl and the British Spy Ring in Wartime Washington was a book I was really looking forward to read and one that I really should have enjoyed. It was, after all, about many things I enjoy.  Book about an author? Check. WWII history? Check. Spies? Check. Yet it took me months to slog through. According to Goodreads it took me close to four months to finish it. I read the ginormous tome that was the biography of the Queen Mum in less time.

I can't say I wasn't warned. I was told that it was slow and a bit dull. I didn't think much of it. I know a lot of people think James Bond when they think of spies and I've read enough to know that in real life Bond, James Bond, would rather suck at the spy game. I wasn't expecting action. I was, however, expecting the book to be about Roald Dahl and the spy ring in wartime Washington.

Which it kinda wasn't. Yes, Roald Dahl was the rather weak glue that held it all together but he had a disturbing way of disappearing for pages and pages at a time. And yes, there were other people in the spy ring mentioned. Briefly. Occasionally. Not very often and not in particularly good detail. I learned more about Charles Marsh (not a spy... also not British) and his various affairs than I ever needed to know and I'm not sure why on earth I needed to know about them aside from him being a main source of Dahl's success in Washington and in life as a whole.

I understand that documentation on the actual spy activities is rather... slim. Most of the documents got incinerated at Camp X (which sadly no longer exists). I understand what Conant was trying to do and that there were obvious struggles with source material. I do.

But the problem is that that book is not what it claims to be. While I'd be willing to think it's a one-off, I've been hearing similar things about the author's newest book A Covert Affair: Julie Child and Paul Child and the OSS. Based on reviews I've read there's not a heck of  a lot of the Child's in the book, more attention being on Jane Foster. Sitting in my chair as a reader it's incredibly frustrating to encounter this kind of bait-and-switch.

That's not to say The Irregulars was all bad. It had it's moments and the last chapter or so, which really did focus on Dahl, was quite interesting. But even that was a bit deflating as I could see what the book could have been, instead of what it was.

Bottom line: alternates between fabulously interesting and horrifically dull -- unfortunately titling toward the dull side of the seesaw most of the time.