Saturday, September 11, 2010

The Secret Life of Bletchley Park [one star]

This review was written by Clare who seems to have yawned her way through an entirely different book to the one reviewed here by the majority of readers.


Bletchley Park is synonymous with the brilliant work of a dedicated group of clever men who broke the German wartime military codes and in so doing helped defeat Hitler. The subject matter is indeed potent. Unfortunately the treatment in this book suffers from two related flaws: firstly, being published some sixty five years after the event it lacks freshness in the telling; secondly, it is based solely upon the recollections of the few surviving staff.

Unfortunately most of these are women who had relatively mundane roles in the establishment. This is not to denigrate the women, rather to acknowledge that they were not the ones chosen as code breakers: but only those people could really tell the tale which is so central to the Park.

Those women, who were translators and apparent insiders to crucial intelligence, recall little that is sensational. Repeatedly they emphasise the separation and isolation of functions which fragment their narratives. Even after sixty five years the total emphasis on secrecy impressed upon them still lingers - their reminiscences focus on practical matters of feeding, accommodation and relaxation rather than shedding any light on how the codes were tackled and the role of the proto-computers.

What the book does offer is an insight into the demands of war work. The hours were long and in shifts; separation from family and the comforts of home meant that loneliness and tedium were the norm with homemade entertainment such as theatrical and musical shows, dancing and sporting exercise being the chief respite. How introverted types must have loathed such a diet of regimented jollity!

In the end the story this book tells is insubstantial and like the lives of many who served their country at Bletchley Park, often tedious. It captures the mundane while the secret thrills of code breaking elude it.