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The Rose Code by Kate Quinn

Writing.ie | Book Reviews | Historical Fiction

By Swirl and Thread

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The Rose Code by Kate Quinn is published by Harper Collins and is described as ‘The Crown meets The Imitation Game…a riveting wartime epic of three friends who meet at Bletchley Park’. Having been enthralled by The Crown there was only one thing for it when I turned the final page of The Rose Code and that was to watch The Imitation Game and I am now in complete awe and admiration for these courageous and strong people, these codebreakers of the Second World War. As the final credits rolled for The Imitation Game, and after I had paused it on numerous occasions explaining bits that I had learned from reading The Rose Code, my 14 year old daughter turned to me and said ‘Why is this not taught in school?’.

Bletchley Park was kept secret until the 1970s when war-time information was declassified. For the many who worked there, their war-time careers were shrouded in mystery with family members oblivious to the vital work that their relatives were doing. When Kate Quinn made the decision to write The Rose Code she was inspired by the stories of the women who worked there. She carried out the most incredible level of research pulling together information from the archives, YouTube, online searches and, of course, travelling to Bletchley Park itself.

Bletchley Park, or the Government Code and Cypher School, was set on a vast estate in Buckinghamshire and was kept top secret. Here the German Enigma encrypted codes were cracked using the Bombe machine, a code breaking machine developed by renowned British mathematician Alan Turing. It is estimated that WWII ended two years sooner due to the success of the Bombe machine.

Now a restored heritage attraction, Bletchley Park originally ‘grew from a small team of specialists to a vast intelligence factory of thousands of dedicated women and men. This extraordinary combination of brilliant and determined people and cutting-edge technology contributed significantly to Allied victory. In tough conditions, they provided vital intelligence and developed pioneering technological innovation that had a direct and profound influence on the outcome of the war.

Ref   https://bletchleypark.org.uk/

Kate Quinn brings the reader into Bletchley Park through the eyes of three women Osla, Mab and Beth. Osla and Mab arrive first and are billeted at the same digs where they meet the quiet and nervy Beth, daughter of the household. Beth is extremely reserved, a shy individual with a domineering mother who criticises her every move. Beth never dreamed of a life beyond the confines of her family but when an opportunity arises, Beth joins the Bletchley team, discovering that she is very capable and a valuable asset to the park, beyond the control of her mother.

Osla, Mab and Beth are all very different personalities but became strong friends, living and working together with a shared objective. With daily pressures piling on the shoulders of the girls, they soon come to realise the enormity of their quest, always very much aware of the secrecy of their roles. Bletchley Park was a twenty-four hour hive of activity and the girls worked shifts in varied roles, each contributing to the war effort to crack Enigma. All three have very fascinating back stories but it is that of Osla that will appeal to all The Crown fans amongst you. Osla’s character is loosely based on Osla Benning ‘a beautiful, effervescent, Canadian-born heiress and Hut 4 translator who was Prince Philip’s long-term wartime girlfriend.’ (Ref: Kate Quinn) Osla is frustrated. All her life she is seen as a silly debutante but working at Bletchley gave her confidence in her ability to be more. She worked hard but also played hard, making trips into London whenever the opportunity arose to dance and get glammed up. Her character is very central to the book from the get-go, as the story begins in 1947 in the lead up to the wedding of Prince Philip to the young Princess Elizabeth.

Osla, following the war, worked with Tatler, and unexpectedly receives a telegram with an encrypted message from her once friend Beth, now incarcerated in Clockwell Sanatorium. Mab also receives the same message. The war is over with their friendship in tatters for reasons which are slowly revealed. One last job is required, one very important search for the truth of a betrayal that cuts very deep indeed.

Kate Quinn takes her reader on the most extraordinary journey into the world of Bletchley Park, a place where there was a sense of equality and acceptance among all. The job was to crack codes, gruelling work that took its toll on many employees as the relentless nature of their roles led to mental exhaustion and burnout. It was important that morale was kept up so eccentricities were accepted and madcap activities were overlooked. The three girls immersed themselves in the insanity of it all fulfilling their roles amidst the camaraderie of fellow code-breakers. The secrecy element made the lives of many who worked there very difficult beyond the walls of Bletchley Park but it was for a greater cause and many suffered quietly only revealing their secrets many years later or in many cases taking them to the grave.

The Rose Code is a very compelling and insightful read. Complex, educational, fascinating it is an incredibly researched story about friendship, war and betrayal set against the backdrop of the intriguing Bletchley Park. Mixing genres The Rose Code will appeal to fans of espionage, thrillers and to all with an interest in historical fiction. Atmospheric to the last detail, Kate Quinn has written a superb novel, one that I absolutely devoured and has me off researching and most definitely hungry for more. Bravo Kate Quinn.

(c) Order your copy online here.

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