Spy novel with a twist: “The Most Difficult Thing” by Charlotte Philby

it should have been the surname “Philby” that could have drawn my attention, juggling the memory. But Charlotte Philby’s book cover was what riveted me in the first place, making me pause by the shelf on which it stood at Waterstone’s. A striking black and white image punctuated with a lemony shade of yellow – simplicity and riot colliding. I pulled the book off the shelf, opened it at a random page and started reading. Before I read the full page, I was walking towards the till to purchase it.

Yet I didn’t start read it straight away. Not the next day or the week after. I exercised self-restraint by putting it at the bottom of my summer reading pile and it was the last book I started reading, a week and a half before summer came to an end. I read the first 60 or so pages in one go. And as morning gave way to late afternoon, sated after a long swim in the cool sea, my skin covered in dried up salt residue, I climbed on top of a hot boulder and continued reading, savouring words like a glass of cooling lemonade, oblivious to my surroundings.

Charlotte Philby, jacket photograph by Elena Alferova

“Damn it, Charlotte Philby has such a way with words. They flow effortlessly. Wish I had that talent”, my mind occasionally sprang to life like a sea bird from the depth of the sea.

The book starts with suspense and then as quickly changes pace, drawing you in like a child is drawn to candy. The story of Anna, David, Harry and Meg unfolds as life does, leisurely one moment, intensely the next.

On the surface Anna Witherall has the perfect life – she work in a glossy magazine and is happily married to her University boyfriend, with whom she has adorable twin girls. They live in a beautiful home, attend glamorous galas and has a privilege of wealth and connections. But what bubbles beneath is as unexpected, as it is heart-breaking. When intelligence comes into play and changes the status quo, when Anna starts to question friendships and loyalties, her life unravels in the most unexpected way. Should she stay or should she go? Can she trust those close to her, even long-lasting connections?

The story flows, as your breath quickens. Charlotte expertly fuses together love and life, suspense and business practises, glamorous locations and relationships – all of which continously shape the characters. It starts on a high and finishes with as much of it, as the darkness descends and the curtain falls.

As the action veers between Greece and London, Africa and the Maldives for good measure, you can expect your mind to take on Sherlock Holmes’s mantle trying to predict the ending. While some of my hunches were right, the end made me shout out loudly ‘what?’ much to amusement of my kids. As I sat on the almost deserted beach, people being replaced by seagulls, I turned the last page, as the tide rolled in.

I managed to read a lot of books this summer but this adult book has become my ‘the one’ and I can’t recommend it highly enough to you.

Just one question for Charlotte – when is book No.2 due to be published, so I can take up my place at the front of the queue? Oh, and I also think that you have made your famous grandfather immensely proud by carrying the journalistic torch and writing your own legacy.

“The Most Difficult Thing” by Charlotte Philby, The Borough Press, 422pp, £12.99

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Name *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.