The Betrayal – Helen Dunmore

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 Long listed for 2010 Booker Prize


I loved The Siege so was looking forward to reading The Betrayal, but unfortunately the sequel wasn’t quite as good as I’d hoped.

The Betrayal is set 10 years after the Siege of Leningrad and follows Anna and Andrei, the young couple we first saw in The Siege, as they rebuild their lives. They no longer fear starvation, but life under Stalin isn’t easy. Andrei is a doctor at the local hospital and at the start of the book he has to make the agonising decision of whether or not to treat the son of a senior secret police officer. The young boy is seriously ill and if he fails to recover then Andrei knows his family will be brought to the attention of the authorities – something no one wants to happen.

The Betrayal is very different in style to The Siege. The Siege was packed with vivid descriptions, but The Betrayal focused on dialogue instead. This meant that the book had a much faster pace, but I didn’t feel as immersed in the Russian landscape. The claustrophobic emotion was still present, but at many points I thought that the plot moved too quickly for the reader to fully appreciate the gravity of the situation.

Much of book reminded me of Child 44, but the complexity of Tom Rob Smith’s book meant that I preferred his book. If you aren’t familiar with life in post-war Soviet Russia then The Betrayal is a good place to start, but I think that anyone familiar with this period of history will be disappointed.

I found the first section of the book quite annoying to read as it contained many references to events in The Siege:

The frost is all over them like fur. Anna drew as if only drawing would keep her alive. Here’s Marina, alive again, carefully peeling off the top, painted layer of papier mache from Kolya’s toy fort. There is nourishment in the paste that held the layers of newspaper together. They will cook and eat the papier mache.

I’m sure that people who read the first book ten years ago appreciated the reminders, but since I only read it last week I found it overly repetitive. I don’t think that readers need to know everything that came before as the events of the second book were shocking enough to stand alone.

Despite my criticisms I was gripped throughout this fast paced book and loved the ending. The Betrayal isn’t in the same league as The Siege, but it was still a good read.


Will The Betrayal make the Booker short list? 

I’m not sure. I think this is one of the books that the judges will discuss for a long time, being middle of the list it will either miss out or just scrape through. My hunch is that it will be ranked 7/13 in the Booker list and fail to make the cut. Its inclusion would be a pleasant surprise for me though.

Did you prefer The Siege or The Betrayal?

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  1. I do have to pick this up — this time period and history has always gripped me!

    1. Jackie says:

      I hope that you enjoy it!

  2. Jessica says:

    I just finished The Siege which I really enjoyed so I will be getting this one too at some point, it sounds quite different to The Siege which I liked for its slower plot. Glad you still enjoyed though.

    1. Jackie says:

      Jessica, The Betrayal is much faster paced. I hope that you still enjoy it as I can see a few people being very disappointed.

  3. I skimmed to the bottom, Jackie, not having read The Siege yet. I borrowed Verity’s copy today – do you still maintain that it should be read before The Betrayal, having now read both?

    I’m sorry you didn’t enjoy this as much; I wonder if it was entirely due to reading them in such close proximity to one another of if the sequel pales in comparison.

    1. Jackie says:

      Claire, You can understand The Betrayal without reading The Siege, but I think that you will ruin your enjoyment of The Siege if you read The Betrayal first as you will find out all the key plot points. As The Siege is the better book in my opinion I think it would be sad for you to miss out on it.

      I do think reading them so close together was one of my problems with the book. It is a hard call as people do need some reminders after 10 years, but when it is just one week it is too much.

      I recommend reading The Siege now and The Betrayal in at least a years time, but long list deadlines don’t allow that :-(

      1. No, longlist deadlines most definitely don’t allow for that! I think I’ll read The Siege as it sounds like such a great book that it would be a pity if I didn’t and try to leave The Betrayal to last – I’ll not have read them in time for shortlist anyway and that may well decide whether I read it this year or next!

  4. Shannon says:

    I’m glad I don’t have to read The Siege first to understand this one. It should be coming in for me at the library soon but I don’t have the time to read The Seige first.

    1. Jackie says:

      Shannon, I’ll be interested to see what it is like for you reading them the other way around. I hope that you still enjoy them both.

  5. Stujallen says:

    seems good that it iks able to stand alone ,not be read with siege ,they both appeal to me on a level I have read a few books based around stalingrad and the siege ,sure see it some time cheap ,all the best stu

    1. Jackie says:

      Stu, I have developed a new interest in Stalingrad. I hope to read a few more Stalingrad books soon and I’ll keep an eye out for them on your blog too :-)

  6. Amy says:

    From your review The Siege does sound a lot better, so I might try to find it first / instead!

    1. Jackie says:

      Amy, I’m sure that once you’ve read The Siege you’ll want to read The Betrayal. Enjoy!

  7. I bought a copy of Child 44 based on your recommendation and I swear, I’m getting to it, but now you’re listing books faster than I can buy them…..Mr. RR thanks you (ha).

    1. Jackie says:

      Michele, Send my apologies to Mr. RR!!

  8. I just finished The Siege, and I’m really looking forward to this one. I’m sorry you didn’t like this one as much as The Siege, but I’m intrigued to know it has a different style.

    1. Jackie says:

      Carrie, Sorry – don’t know why I missed your comment :-(

      It is quite impressive that she is able to write such different syles of books. We can’t love them all :-(

  9. Laura says:

    I saved this review in Google Reader, waiting until I’d read the book myself. I agree with your review, Jackie. I liked it well enough, but The Siege was a more powerful book. And your hunch about the shortlist was correct!

    1. Jackie says:

      Laure, It is good to see we are agreeing more. ;-) I look forward to reading your review.


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