Time in between by María Duenas
El Tiempo entre costuras (English translation: Time in between)
There are times when you find yourself wanting a book to finish. The story has stalled on you, the characters have lost their mystery, the plot has become too tortuous…..in other words, the narrative has outstayed its welcome, and you are counting the pages to the end.
Occasionally, you find yourself so engrossed in the narrative of a piece of fiction, and you have unwittingly entered the lives and personalties of the protagonists to such an extent that you are happy to stay with the story to the end and, indeed, may be unhappy when you have to turn to that final page….
El tiempo entre costuras (Time in between) fell into the latter category. Although a little short of 700 pages, and a first published novel by María Duenas, for me this proved to be a literary tour de force. Set in the years of the Spanish Civil War, it proved to be an effective piece of historic narrative set in the context of fiction. The clever use of the first person narrative helps to draw the reader into the character and perspective of the protagonist, as she progresses from the humble beginnings of running errands for a dressmaking business in Madrid, to setting up her own haute couture outlet in the Spanish Protectorate of North Africa, to eventually becoming a leading player in the British Secret Service during WW2.
The connections may seem very obscure, but Duenas has a thorough knowledge of the period, especially of the British involvement in espionage in the post Civil War years. Churchill desperately wanted to keep Spain out WW2. If Franco had opted in, it would most definitely have been with the Axis powers, given the help and support both Germany and Italy had provided the Nationalists during the Civil War.
This piece of historical fiction provides an illuminating insight into the little known machinations of MI6 on the Iberian peninsula. A very good read.