The astonishing true story of a young woman's adventures, and misadventures, in the dangerous world of Nazi-occupied France.
'A most strange and compelling book driven by the writer's unsparing search for truth: now an optimistic hunt for a family heroine, now a study in female wiles of survival, now a portrait of one very ordinary person's frailty in the face of terrible odds.' John le Carré
When Nicholas Shakespeare stumbled across a box of documents belonging to his late aunt he was completely unaware of where this discovery would take him. The Priscilla he remembered was very different from the glamorous, morally ambiguous young woman who emerged from the many love letters and journals, surrounded by suitors and living the dangerous existence of a British woman in a country controlled by the enemy. He had heard rumours that Priscilla had fought in the Resistance, but the truth turned out to be far more complicated.
As he investigated his aunt's life, dark secrets emerged. Nicholas discovered the answer to the questions he'd been puzzling over: what caused the breakdown of Priscilla's marriage to a French aristocrat? Why had she been interned in a prisoner-of-war camp and how had she escaped? And who was the 'Otto' she was having a relationship with as Paris was liberated?
Priscilla's story shows us the precariousness of life in occupied France, when loyalties were compromised and life could change in an instant. It gives us an intimate insight into women's lives in times of conflict and asks us to consider what we might do to survive in similar circumstances.
About the Author
Nicholas Shakespeare was born in Worcester in 1957 and grew up in the Far East and Latin America. He is a prize-winning novelist and biographer and Priscilla draws on his talents in both genres.
"A pin-sharp biography which unfurls like gripping fiction... wonderful, haunting, thought-provoking" -- Melanie Reid The Times "I have not read a better portrait of the moral impossibility of that time and place for people, like Priscilla, who found themselves trapped in it... A wonderful book" Daily Telegraph "As Shakespeare acknowledges, his aunt's is one of millions of wartime stories. But thanks to the extensive paperwork, and his energetic digging, he creates a detailed and vivid narrative. This is a moving, and constantly surprising story" -- Matthew Bell Independent on Sunday "So gripping it reads like a novel" -- Rachel Johnson Evening Standard "This mysterious story of the Occupation in France has all the qualities of a fascinating novel, with exquisite social, sexual and moral nuance" -- Antony Beevor "Shakespeare offers a nuanced and detailed psychological study of the effect of the Second World war on an ordinary woman. The result is just as absorbing as any biography of a war hero" Sunday Times "Nicholas Shakespeare has employed all his superb gifts as a writer to tell the picaresque tale of his aunt in wartime occupied France. Priscilla is a femme fatale worthy of fiction, and the author traces her tangled, troubled, romantic and often tragically unromantic experiences through one of the most dreadful periods of 20th-century history" -- Max Hastings "Priscilla brilliantly exposes the tangled complexities behind that question so easily asked from the comfort of a peacetime armchair: "What would I have done?" Observer "Priscilla's descent into hell runs eerily parallel to that of France itself; Faustian, fascinating and in the end extremely sad" -- Sebastian Faulks Observer, Books of the Year "An account of the author's aunt's life in France under the Nazis. Her descent parallels that of France: Grim but fascinating" -- Sebastian Faulks Observer "A gripping excavation of a woman's secret past, Priscilla is also a fascinating portrait of France during the Second World War, and of the many shadowy and corrupt deals made by the French with their Nazi occupiers" -- Caroline Moorehead "In Priscilla, Nicholas Shakespeare captures the soul of a young Englishwoman who, to survive in Nazi-occupied France, is forced to make choices which few in England ever had to face. She remained her own unflinching judge and jury to the end" -- Charlotte Rampling "Wonderfully readable... Shakespeare, a novelist and biographer of some note, is too good a writer to succumb to sensationalism. Instead, and after some impressive research, he builds a nuanced, sensitive portrait of this sad and glamorous member of his family... As the life of Priscilla shows, surviving the occupation was too complicated an affair for any black-and-white verdict" Economist "Like the author's biography of Bruce Chatwin, this is, beneath the obvious drama, a subtle, masterfully written work" -- Thomas Keneally The Australian, Books of the Year "This absorbing book has many of the excitements of a thriller" Spectator "Priscilla's is a remarkable story, teased out with great skill by her nephew, himself one of the best English novelists of our time" -- Allan Massie Wall Street Journal "Nicholas Shakespeare has employed all his superb gifts as a writer to tell the picaresque tale of his aunt in wartime occupied France. Priscilla is a femme fatale worthy of fiction, and the author traces her tangled, troubled, romantic and often tragically unromantic experiences through one of the most dreadful periods of 20th century history" -- Max Hastings "A thrilling story... an intimate family memoir, a story of survival and a quest for biographical truth" -- Sebastian Shakespeare Tatler "[An] extraordinary true story of the author's aunt. A life of dark secrets, glamour, adventure and adversity during wartime." -- Fanny Blake Woman & Home "A tantalisingly original perspective of the Second World War...Shakespeare shines a moving, intriguing light on the moral quandaries faced by ordinary civilians" -- Robert Collins Sunday Times "Priscilla is an unusual book, part biography, part family memoir, part detective story, but it reads like a novel and I found it impossible to put down. As an evocation of the period and the moral hypocrisy of the times, it could hardly be bettered (4 stars, Book of the Week)" -- Juliet Barker Mail on Sunday
Number Of Pages: 464
Published: 1st July 2014
Publisher: Vintage Publishing
Country of Publication: GB
Dimensions (cm): 19.8 x 13.1 x 3.5
Weight (kg): 0.45
Edition Number: 1