Sleepers hide in plain sight. Spies, double agents, lovers, mothers, writers. They wear smiling masks, turn up the collars of their raincoats, write in invisible ink, wear many disguises, and consort with the enemy. Some of them sleep for years, like Sleeping Beauty, waiting to be summoned. Some forget what they are hiding from, or where their real allegiances lie. Sleeper examines loyalty and dishonesty, class and power, the spies who were caught – like Mata Hari and Ethel Rosenberg – and those who got away – like the Cambridge Spies – seen through the eyes of friends, family and lovers (including the four wives of Kim Philby). Sleeper is a book about secrets and lies, divided loyalties and double lives, about waiting to come in from the cold.
Litzi Friedmann You meet her in Latschkagasse 9, amid the heat of anti-fascist action. A comrade, brave and true, her fire burns away your upper-class inertia, lights your way into history. This is your one and only barricade. As you step forward, she steps back: for historical necessity, the choice that must be made. She will not be bought by either side, never loses faith in the bright, impossible dream. Aileen Furse 1: Aileen at Work She glides the aisles of Marks and Sparks invisible, seeing but not being seen. Aileen, your home counties skirt and Betjeman blouse are a uniform for obscurity, an understated version of the trilby and the belted mac. Around you, the new fabrics: nylon, tricell, acrilon. Your eyes slide across their synthetic sheen, no snags on their patina, as you clock the hand that slips the skirt into the bag. You can tell the ones most likely to, spot them across a busy counter, then follow like a ghost all the way to the Marble Arch door. Your manicured hand on an anxious shoulder. ‘Excuse me, madam. I have reason to believe...’ 2: Aileen and Kim Sensible Aileen. Home Counties girl, a good judge of horses, but your judgement failed when it came to Kim, the exotic red, the dark stain on the Union Jack. The cow’s lick of hair, the upperclass charm, the authentic glossy surface. Every layer of him a tribute to English self-assurance: an Empire housed in his heart, a country estate in each eye, a waft of public school dormitory as he undresses you, right down to your M and S knickers. He rides you as if you are his county mare, a champion, rosettes for nipples and an afternoon tea of a cunt, all strawberries and cream. You bear him five children like a breeder, little soldiers ready to fly the flag, if only daddy would show you how, if only mummy would stop crying. 3: Aileen in Agony The appendix scar: you noticed it the first time you helped her lift her Marks and Spencer’s slip over her apprehensive head. It was bigger than others you had seen, an angry ridge claiming the cream territory of her belly. In time, you ceased to see it, especially as the children filled this space, coming and going like flitting tenants, stretch marks deposing the scar’s supremacy. And anyway, your gaze had wandered on, to younger, tauter landscapes. She slipped over the edge of your horizon, waved once or twice, then vanished with her scars, as if she’d never been. Aileen. 4: Aileen Abandoned From M and S to Marx and Stalin. How far she has travelled. She wears his neurosis like a tricell day dress, its slippery surface inauthentic, synthetic. Drowns the insecurity with gin. He is numbers and letters. She is substance and workings. The ice in the glass. The day to day like Betty Draper. Who is she now? Only the drink in her hand makes any sense. She grips it tightly, hears the insults from a necessary distance. The friends come first. He would not risk his neck to save her: of this, she is certain. Now she has no life to lose and loses her life. He rejoices. The children are scattered like shards from a dropped tumbler. Eleanor Brewis I’d always known And yet it was a shock to lose him to the storm. His absence: as if the rain had washed him clean away. Alone in Beirut, a sudden Kim shaped hole in my life. Without his guidance I learned to improvise, not tell them what I knew. He took nothing with him, not a shirt or tie. Those long days. Endless loop of movies in my head, our technicolour figures on a beach. He came to me on the cusp, the high wire act about to fail. The game was up, before I had a chance to learn the rules. I shelved my life, flew to a dark airstrip to meet a man in a dark coat who spoke in his voice. But it was not the same. He blended with the grey, made the alien streets of Moscow a new backdrop. I needed light, a balcony with a view of the sea, restaurants, bouillabaisse. I shivered in my Harrods camel coat, incongruous in the bread queue. How love thinned in the cold. Did you miss me when I left? Rufina Ivanovna Pukhova Still a residue of charm in the folds of his face. He is other, a foreign male lost in the bardak. My breasts welcome him in, my only child, sucking, sucking. Always thirsty. Hands clutch the bottle. His ears alert to sounds beyond the reach of human: dog ears that pick up the moan of the ceiling bug, its theremin song. Ouija voices: wives, children, agents on their way into the traps that he set. The medal weighs him down, another burden. I make him mushroom soup and pierogi, rub his back, put on the Frank Sinatra record that he loves. We dance. I hold him up, daughter and wife. His face on a five Kopec stamp, like the English queen.
‘a sharp, thought-provoking collection.’
‘An extraordinarily timely collection’