Book Review: I Can’t Begin to Tell You by Elizabeth Buchan

I Can't Begin to Tell You - Elizabeth Buchan

I Can't Begin to Tell You - Elizabeth Buchan - Credit: Archant

War has come and everyone must choose a side...

Set in Denmark in 1940, we meet Kay Eberstern – an English woman who has been married to a Danish man, Bror, for 25 years. Now she finds herself living under Nazi occupation, in a country suddenly facing uncertainty and colossal inner conflict. When Bror chooses to collaborate with the Nazis in order to preserve his family estate and home, Kay is filled with repulsion. She cannot do the same.

Kay finds herself lured by the British Intelligence in to a world of subterfuge, resistance and sabotage. Set the challenging and exceptionally risky task of protecting a Special Operations Executive agent (British Secret Service), she finds herself embroiled in a dangerous world where she is forced to betray her husband and put her family at risk.

Elizabeth Buchan is a highly-acclaimed author with an impressive back catalogue of titles. Most of her other novels are more light-hearted, humorous and almost chick lit in style so this book is definitely a departure. However, it is very clear that Elizabeth is a talented novelist, able to write an historical drama which is absolutely gripping and thrilling.

Elizabeth has obviously done her homework as the book is very detailed; it feels very believable and authentic in its depiction of wartime Europe. Her characters are well drawn and engaging – the women strong and courageous. At 495 pages it is not a light read but it is well-paced and certainly a book in which you can get completely caught up.

There are some really interesting dynamics explored within the story. For example, Kay is English, but also very firmly part of Denmark. When Denmark becomes occupied, her husband has no problems siding with the Nazis. Kay cannot accept this. From the very opening then the reader is intrigued to find out how this couple will survive the war with such fundamentally different opinions. And also, what might become of an “English” woman caught up in Europe in 1940? The author also explores the role of women in wartime more generally, using the novel as a chance to recognise the bravery and courage of the women - maybe even paying homage to some of the very real women who “fought” against the enemy.

What I also found refreshing was that the story was set in Denmark. The role of the French Resistance is well known, frequently used as the inspiration for many novels and films. But of Denmark I knew very little. And it seems very topical to uncover more things about this unassuming country as the popularity of series like The Killing dominate our TV schedules.

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If you are looking for an historical read with moments of tension, adventure, choice and dilemma, then this is the book for you. If you enjoyed Charlotte Gray by Sebastian Faulks or William Boyd’s Restless which feature female protagonists during the Second World War, then this is the book for you! The reviews are glowing with the words “thoughtful”, “insightful” and “gripping” repeated by readers. It seems Elizabeth Buchan’s shift in genre has been a welcomed and successful move!