Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Avalanche: Review

Avalanche (1944) by Kay Boyle is an espionage story with romantic overtones set in France during the German occupation. It follows Fenton Ravel, a French-American young woman who has returned to France from America. She is in search of answers about the disappearance of Bastineau, a man she grew up with and whom she grew to love. It is said that Bastineau died in an avalanche, along with two men he was guiding in the French Alps, but Fenton refuses to believe that he is dead. As she makes her way to the mountains where she grew up, she doesn't realize that there is someone else on the darkened train who also searches for Bastineau and the secrets his disappearance hides. 

The locals are suspicious of her, in part because she is viewed as having abandoned France (for America) when war was rumbling on the horizon. Now that she's back, she is seen in the company men suspected of being spies and the villagers are fearful that the secret work of the resistance will be revealed--either deliberately or inadvertently by her return.Will she be able to help the man she loves...or will she unknowingly lead the enemy to him?

********Spoilers Ahead*************

This is an average romance and an average spy story. Fenton is, unfortunately, a fairly stupid heroine. It takes her an inordinately long time to spot the bad guy of the piece (despite Boyle using near-neon signposts pointing to him) and still manages to lead him to the truth about Bastineau and the resistance movement that he's still working with (yes, he's alive). Fortunately for her, our hero arrives in the nick of time to save her from the German spy. And they get married (monsieur le curĂ© just happens to pop in at the right moment) and they go happily off into the sunset to fight for the resistance together. 

The best parts of this one include the opening scenes when Fenton is on the dark train with two other travelers--they sit in the dark compartment because of the black out. They are all curious about one another, but endeavor to hold a casual conversation that will not betray their curiosity. It's quite well done. Boyle also does well with her descriptions of the gray and white mountains, invoking brooding imagery that gives readers a good sense of the landscape. I think perhaps Boyle would have done better as a straight fiction writer. She doesn't quite have the flair necessary for a suspenseful spy thriller. ★★ and a half.



Yvette said...

Oh, this sounds like something Helen MacInnes could have done with her eyes closed. Well, you know what I mean, Bev. Have you read ASSIGNMENT IN BRITTANY??? ABOVE SUSPICION? etc... I'm sure you have. But that's who I instantly thought of when I began reading your review.

Bev Hankins said...


I haven't read Assignment in Brittany yet (it's on one of the TBR piles around here somewhere)--but I have read Decision at Delphi which was very good. MacInnes is much better.