Exposure by Helen Dunmore

 Exposure cover

Exposure by Helen Dunmore was published in 2016. It’s a great read despite the fact that it has an uncomfortable atmosphere, and not just because she was writing about a character who had terminal cancer – as she had too.

The setting is 1960 Cold War London where Paul Callington has a ‘hush-hush’ job at the Admiralty. He’s married with three children and he’s happy with his life. His wife Lily is a part-time teacher and is able to help out with paying for luxuries and despite the fact that he has come to realise that his career has just about come to a standstill he’s not really bothered by it. Paul lacks ambition and in all honesty is a bit dim and lacking in common sense, despite having a decent degree from Cambridge – or possibly because of that!

When his older work colleague and old friend Giles has an accident and ends up in hospital he asks Paul to go to his flat and secretly take a file back to the office – a file that Giles should never have had at home. Loyalty to Giles makes Paul hesitate, he knows he should hand the file to his superiors and he also knows it’ll be hard to replace the file clandestinely.

One stupid decision leads to Paul being arrested as a suspected spy and his wife and family are ostracised and have to leave their schools and home.

Exposure is very like an updated version of The Railway Children in many ways with the three children – two girls and a middle boy and with a capable mother having to move to a rural location, and an innocent father in prison. But the atmosphere is more menacing with the family being in danger from the real spy.

2 thoughts on “Exposure by Helen Dunmore

  1. I loved this book too and also noticed the similarities with The Railway Children. At the time when I read it, I didn’t know the author was suffering from cancer, which makes it more poignant in hindsight.

    • Helen,
      It is very sad, I think she kept her diagnosis to herself until quite close to the end. I imagine that The Railway Children must have been one of her favourite childhood reads. I almost expected there to be a ‘Daddy, my daddy’ in it.

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