London. December 1981. The IRA is on the attack, a cold war is being waged, another war is just over the horizon, and Stephen Donaldson spends his days listening. When he first joined the Institute, he expected to encounter glamorous, high-risk espionage.Read more...
London. December 1981. The IRA is on the attack, a cold war is being waged, another war is just over the horizon, and Stephen Donaldson spends his days listening. When he first joined the Institute, he expected to encounter glamorous, high-risk espionage. Instead he gets the tape-recorded conversations of ancient Communists and ineffectual revolutionaries--until the day he is assigned a new case: the ultra-secret PHOENIX, a suspected internal leak. The monotony of Stephen s routine is broken, but it s not PHOENIX who captures his imagination; it s the target s wife, Helen. Beset by isolation and loneliness, Stephen becomes dangerously obsessed with Helen, risking his job to keep his fragile connection to her and inadvertently setting himself up for a fall that will forever change his life.
With compassion and tenderness and moments of unexpected humor, Francesca Kay charts the way in which imagination, projection, and desire overwhelm the paucity of Stephen s life and identity. As beautiful as it is intense, The Long Room explores a mind under pressure and the wilder cravings of the heart."
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2016-09-05
- Reviewer: Staff
Kays new book is a brilliant spy novel charged with existential dread. In 1981, as the Cold War sputters on and IRA bombs explode, Stephen Spencer is a listener for the Institute, a subsection of British Intelligence. He spends his days listening to taped conversations of peripheral enemies of the state. One day, he is given a new assignment: to listen to the domestic tapes of Phoenix, an Institute member who might also be a traitor. And as he begins his aural surveillance, Stephen, who leads a lonely existence, soon becomes obsessed with Phoenixs unseen wife, Helen, imagining her life, and what his life could be like if they were together. He becomes a secret sharer in all the intimate details of her marriage. In order to keep the surveillance going, Stephen puts himself at great risk. He even goes so far as to stalk Helen and visit the apartment building in which she and Phoenix reside. At the same time, he becomes friendly with a mysterious foreigner named Alberic, who figures prominently in Stephens last-ditch attempt to meet Helen. Kay (The Translation of Bones) does an excellent job of portraying Stephens inner life and his descent into obsession. She also does well at delineating the covert society of Stephen and his fellow listeners. Filled with witty period references to Brideshead Revisited, The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, and Another Country, this is a haunting work of espionage fiction. (Nov.)