The Undertaking

by Audrey Magee

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LoveReading View on The Undertaking

Shortlisted for the 2014 Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction.

An exceptional and totally engrossing debut novel, viewing WWII from an unfamiliar perspective. We are introduced to an German ordinary family in extraordinary times; they make some perplexing and disturbing decisions, is this in order to prosper or survive? The understated and restrained writing style perfectly suits the complex subject matter, allowing you to become absorbed in the central characters lives. At the beginning, while the war is at a distance and triumph seems inevitable, you are kept quite deliberately detached from Katharina and Peter but as the full horror of war gets ever closer, you discover just how much the human soul can endure.
The author takes you on a journey, subtly and quietly introducing you to the Nazi party, where the family start to climb the career ladder of glamour and success. In the battle for Stalingrad, the writing is so simple yet stirring; hunger, loss, pain, cold, fear and ultimately survival all crying out from the page. Towards the end, the final feelings of guilt and the search for absolution (which were initially so conspicuously absent) are written with great insight and consideration. This is such a stimulating and thought provoking novel, you will be left questioning and wondering “what would I have done”? ~ Liz Robinson

Liz Robinson

The Undertaking Synopsis

Desperate to escape the Eastern front, Peter Faber, an ordinary German soldier, marries Katharina Spinell, a woman he has never met; it is a marriage of convenience that promises 'honeymoon' leave for him and a pension for her should he die on the front. With ten days' leave secured, Peter visits his new wife in Berlin; both are surprised by the attraction that develops between them. When Peter returns to the horror of the front, it is only the dream of Katharina that sustains him as he approaches Stalingrad. Back in Berlin, Katharina, goaded on by her desperate and delusional parents, ruthlessly works her way into the Nazi party hierarchy, wedding herself, her young husband and their unborn child to the regime. But when the tide of war turns and Berlin falls, Peter and Katharina, ordinary people stained with their small share of an extraordinary guilt, find their simple dream of family increasingly hard to hold on to...

The Undertaking Reader Reviews

In addition to our Lovereading expert opinion some of our Lovereading Reader Review Panel were also lucky enough to read and review this title.

  • Cathy Petersen - 'Understated and impressive, this debut vividly brings to life two sides of the German experience under the Nazi regime.' Read full review >
  • Sue Broom - 'Very well researched and written, a debut novel for the author to be proud of.' Read full review >
  • Sarah Hamid - 'I found this a challenging yet compelling read that I couldn't put down until I'd finished it. This is a story about choice and necessity,  bravery and loss.' Read full review >
  • Genevieve McAllister - 'Audrey Magee’s novel illustrates how war compounds the lack of choice open to people – including those left behind at the ‘home front’ – and even more sadly, how pride leads to lost opportunities.' Read full review >
  • Alison Layland - 'A chilling perspective of ordinary lives in World War II Germany.' Read full review >
  • Nicola Foster - 'Multi-layered and evocative, The Undertaking does not shy away from the sheer hell of war and despite all of the coarse, graphic descriptions of disease, death and brutality, remains beautifully, albeit sparsely written.' Read full review >
  • Cheryl Kinney - 'Great Read from a different perspective...a really good book, in fact it is a great debut!' Read full review >
  • Sarah Musk - 'A haunting, chilling book set in World War Two Germany, superbly depicting the contrast between the delusions of the Berliners and the terrible ordeals of the soldiers on the Russian Front.' Read full review >
  • Joy Bosworth - 'The story is so compelling one can hear the ranting rallies and Wagnerian background sounds to the lives of these ordinary people as if watching a newsreel from the times.' Read full review >
  • Suzanne Beney - 'A no holds barred, poignant tale of the power of love in all its guises during WWII.' Read full review >
  • Ann Peet - 'Original, moving, gripping, powerful WWII story...Amazing that such an accomplished, powerful and well written book is a first novel.' Read full review >
  • Barbara Middlemast-Neal - 'An astonishingly perceptive and accomplished début novel written from an unusual perspective for British readers - that of a relatively ordinary German family during WWII.' Read full review >
  • Michelle Hemmingway - 'a thought provoking and original story that was extremely readable and enjoyable.' Read full review >
  • Ian Whitby - 'an ideal novel for a book club as it will stir many discussions and leaves the reader considering the story and 'what if ...' for longer than it takes to read. A spellbinding book.' Read full review >
  • Susan Walsh - 'A real page turner that will stay with you. 10/10 the best book I’ve read in a long while.' Read full review >
  • Fiona Maclean - 'This book seemed unlikely and so unpromising for the first few pages - and then became increasingly compelling. An excellent read.' Read full review >
  • Rachel Bridgeman - 'It is highly recommended reading and would press it on any of my friends as one of the best books I've read this year.' Read full review >

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All versions of this book

ISBN: 9781782391029
Publication date: 06/02/2014
Publisher: Atlantic Books
Format: Hardback

Book Information

ISBN: 9781782391029
Publication date: 6th February 2014
Author: Audrey Magee
Publisher: Atlantic Books
Format: Hardback
Genres: Reader Reviewed Books, Debuts of the Month, eBook Favourites, Historical Fiction, Literary Fiction,
Categories:

About Audrey Magee

Audrey Magee worked for twelve years as a journalist and has written for, among others, The Times, The Irish Times and the Guardian. She has a Masters degree in journalism from Dublin City University and an honours Bachelor of Arts degree in German and French from University College Dublin. She lives in Wicklow with her husband and three daughters. The Undertaking is her first novel.   Author photo © Patrick Redmond

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