|Title: The Unwitting|
Author: Ellen Feldman
Published: May 6, 2014 by Random House
In CIA parlance, those who knew were “witting.” Everyone else was among the “unwitting.”
On a bright November day in 1963, President Kennedy is shot. That same day, Nell Benjamin receives a phone call with news about her husband, the influential young editor of a literary magazine. As the nation mourns its public loss, Nell has her private grief to reckon with, as well as a revelation about Charlie that turns her understanding of her marriage on its head, along with the world she thought she knew.
With the Cold War looming ominously over the lives of American citizens in a battle of the Free World against the Communist powers, the blurry lines between what is true, what is good, and what is right tangle with issues of loyalty and love. As the truths Nell discovers about her beloved husband upend the narrative of her life, she must question her own allegiance: to her career as a journalist, to her country, but most of all to the people she loves.
Set in the literary Manhattan of the 1950s, at a journal much like the Paris Review, The Unwitting evokes a bygone era of burgeoning sexual awareness and intrigue and an exuberance of ideas that had the power to change the world. Resonant, illuminating, and utterly absorbing,The Unwitting is about the lies we tell, the secrets we keep, and the power of love in the face of both.
***I received an eARC of this book from the publisher via NetGalley for an honest review. This has not affected my opinion of the book***
The Unwitting was such a unique and interesting read. The Unwitting is the story of Nell who is a writer married to the editor of a prestigious magazine living in Cold War America, a turbulent time in the world. The book begins in 1963 when Nell's world is torn apart, then we rewind to 1948 and follow her complicated marriage during a complicated time in history.
First and foremost this book is Historical Fiction. It immerses the reader in the world of America in the 1950's and 60's but not only that, it places you in the world of publishing during the Cold War era. Yes it's modernization and glamorous parties but it's also fighting an ideological war and having to cater to publishers and funding sources that were just as motivated to fight communism at home as the US government was. For idealistic individuals like our characters it was like walking a tight rope between presenting the truth and crafting an acceptable message. The book did an excellent job of portraying this world by bringing in actual events and occurrences including McCarthyism, the assassination of JFK, and numerous other world events from the time. It was well researched and for someone like me who is very intrigued by this period in history it was a thoroughly enjoyable read.
The book also created a host of interesting and intriguing characters that fit the tone and feeling of uncertainty of the time. Everyone of them was full of secrets and torn between their own personally ideologies and those that they are presenting to others. They were complex, odious, and full of surprises. Many of them walked a fine line of morality which made them so compelling to read about. I was definitely a fan of Nell, the narrator and protagonist of the story. She was smart, sassy, and stuck to her guns. She was one of the few people in this book that had a strong moral compass and ideology. She wanted to use her writing to present the truth to the readers and I respected her for that. But her idealism also leads to naiveté and an inability to see what is really going on. Very quickly you learn that she is an unreliable narrator who didn't see the truth about her husband and her marriage. This fact leads to a whole different tone in the story.
But the best part was the mystery. The unreliable narrator and turbulent time in history lended itself very well to a book with an ominous tone of questioning everything and everyone that kept me reading till the very end. We learn from the synopsis and the first chapter that our main character didn't know the truth about her husband and that the secrets he kept tore her apart. Throughout most of the book as the reader I spent most of my time trying to solve the mystery and hunt for clues for his secret. If you are familiar with this time period then it won't come as much of a surprise but that doesn't mean that it's not enjoyable to look for validation of your theories (I'm planning a discussion post about this topic). But there is more surprises then just the main mystery. When I thought that I had figured it all out the book shocked me even more. The ending was incredibly satisfying and the book was thoroughly enjoyable.
I would recommend The Unwitting to fans of Historical Fiction especially those who like books that take place during the Cold War, readers who enjoy Mysteries, and people who like unreliable narrators. Have you read The Unwitting? What did you think? If you haven't read it, check it out!