A review of “V2”, the latest novel by Robert Harris

This is my seventh novel by Harris (he has written 14). He is never going to win the Booker or the Pulitzer, but he is a consummate storyteller whose forte is to set a fictional personal tale against a backdrop of actual historical events.

In this case, the story takes place over five days at the end of November 1944 and alternate chapters provide the contrasting viewpoints of Kay Caton-Walsh, an officer with Britain’s Women’s Auxiliary Air Force who joins a task force in Belgium attempting to track the launch points of the V2 rockets, and of Rudi Graf, an engineer who has worked on the development of the V2 from the very beginning and is now playing a key role in the launching of these rockets from The Netherlands on to London and Antwerp.

There is a lot of fascinating detail about the development and launching of this vengeance weapon and the techniques for trying to track its trajectory. The absurdity is that this technological marvel – a development of which would one day take man to the moon – was a military nonsense.

It cost the Nazi regime more than the US spent on the Manhattan Project and, while it was unstoppable, it had no effect on the war’s development and four times as many people (some 20,000) died in the manufacture of the weapon than were killed by it. 

Like all Harris’s work, this is an immensely readable novel and it is entirely credible, excluding an absurd final paragraph. But there are two problems – one the responsibility of Harris and the other unavoidable.

The first issue is that, with the exception of those nasty boys in the SS, the Germans are presented as decent souls who just happen to be caught up in the greatest assault on civilisation in the history of humankind. The second is that inevitably the conclusion is anti-climatic: we know that no V2 was stopped and no launch site was hit.


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