Code Name Bullshit

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I was so excited about Code Name Verity. I have a thing for war literature in general (I've taught college courses on the topic) and combat literature in particular, and I'm always looking for something that explores women's roles in the military.

But then I actually cracked open the book.

here was me on page 1: Is this a joke?

me on page 2: Is this a sick joke?

me on page 30: Oh god, it's not just a sick joke. It's a sick BORING joke.

Code Name Verity can be summed up as Hogan's Heroes (a cheesy, late 1960s sitcom about how fun it is to be in a Nazi POW camp, in case you didn't know) meets Life of Pi.

It's Hogan's Heroes because the Nazis in CNV are NICE Nazis! Sure, they torture our heroine the narrator (OHTN) because she's a spy and they're trying to extract useful information from her. But they also really care about her--how can they help it, given how witty, clever, cultured, beautiful and sassy she is? Sure, she calls them names and mocks them, but it's just a sign of what a free spirit she is, someone who deserves their admiration and respect.

It's Life of Pi because OHTN has a plan, which both the Nazis ans the reader figure out right away! Her confession is going to take as long as possible and be filled with as many details and bits minutae as possible, ostensibly so she can "keep it straight in [her] own mind" (3) but really to buy time and point her captors in the wrong direction. And the really smart ones among her captors like it! Again, it just shows what a special, exceptional POW OHTN really is:

The English flight officer has studied the craft of the novel. She is making use of suspense and foreshadowing.... she is employing the literary conceits and techniques of the novel. (57)

Yeah, 'cause that's what Nazis really care about in a confession: not how quickly it's written, or how much useful information it yields, but how well it conforms to the aesthetic conventions of the novel!

That is of course enough to make any discerning reader hate the book, but there are other super annoying elements: for starters, OHTN oh-so-charmingly refers to herself in the third person (she has a couple of names), because some of her early actions are so brave and successful, and because she's so pretty, that she simply can't describe herself in the first person--why, she would sound arrogant! In other words, she's an utterly insufferable Mary Sue.

She can be reduced to jelly by the word kerosene, but she always recovers her scintillating wit and innate confidence as soon as the threat has passed. She's sort of like cross between Katniss Everdeen (because really, she's just a young beautiful girl who doesn't want to be hurt and is only being brave because she has to), and that black knight who fights with Arthur in Monty Python and the Holy Grail and dismisses losing his arm as "just a flesh wound" and taunts Arthur as a "chicken." That's how realistic and believable OHTN's psychology is, but rather than being funny, it's just ridiculous.

This is insultingly bad trash. Don't waste your time.

2 Comments

I may be the only person in America who thought the Mockingjay trilogy was derivative, dull, and just plain bad. Actually, can't speak of the trilogy because I couldn't force myself to finish the third book.

I didn't dislike this book as much as you did, but...I have to confess, I did find this blog post by searching for "code name verity mary sue," hoping to find just one other person who noticed how absurd and overhyped the characterization of Julie was. So, thank you. Glad to know I wasn't alone.

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This page contains a single entry by Holly published on March 16, 2014 9:05 PM.

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