What Lurks Beneath: The Imitator Book Review

By Danielle Aylward 

The noisy clatter of typists’ heels charging up and down the shiny marble floor perforated the balsawood partition wall like gunfire… 

This description is one example of the eloquent prose I came to adore in Rebecca Starford’s 2021 novel The Imitator. Starford’s latest work depicts life in 1940s England, as we explore the world through protagonist Evelyn’s eyes. With Evelyn, we journey through the experience of a woman working in counter-intelligence to support the Britain war effort. The novel is a slice of life nail-biter, and I found it hard to tear my eyes away from the very first page. 

The Imitator, from Allen & Unwin, delves into themes of trust, sacrifice, and loyalty, as well as the age-old question; what does it mean to be human? The novel does not hesitate to dive right in, unveiling how our actions and reactions inspire consequences which spiral in ways we never imagine. Starford draws readers in from the beginning of this page-turner, leaving us wanting more until the very end. A clever combination of language, character, and plot make this novel enjoyable for fans of any genre. 

From the outset we are placed in 1940s England, and see the world through the protagonist’s eyes and experience Evelyn’s journey. We are privy to Evelyn’s uncertainties, concerns, and anxieties, as she tries to downplay these in the manner most acceptable within twentieth-century British society. As a twenty-first century woman, I find Evelyn’s demeanour charming, rehearsed, and an informative take on life in the ‘40s. Add to this Evelyn’s profession and boom – I’m intrigued. 

Starford has cleverly written her novel in layers; we can see Evelyn’s surface reactions, while being immediately aware of something lurking deep beneath her calm exterior. This leads to a rising sense of tension for readers, which builds up and leaves unanswered questions in its wake. Why is this character’s arrival problematic to the point of mental anguish? What has happened to Evelyn in the past that has scarred her to this degree? I often found these questions rising to the surface of my mind while reading the novel, fuelling my urge to continue. 

These questions led me down an investigative path for answers, which Starford delivers with poise and finesse. Her plotting ensures that we are engaged for the entirety of Evelyn’s story; slow in places to examine characters and their relationships with one another, and quick in others to leave us on the edge of our seats, searching for the truth behind the mystery. Starford’s plotting is consistent, while bending and curving to enhance the tension and raise questions in readers’ minds. Can we trust this character? Are they lying to themselves, or to us? These questions placed me in an unnerving state of doubt and scepticism, which makes The Imitator all the more fascinating to experience. 

Showing off her prowess as an author, Starford engages us through witty dialogue, and careful description of setting and of characters’ actions. Starford does not skimp on the details, and gives readers a front row seat to experience the smallest of interactions, as they work to seamlessly create tension, while providing an insight into the relationships and connections Evelyn encounters throughout her journey. Whether it’s a gaze, a moment in time, or a passing feeling, we are fortunate enough to gain the insight we need to fuel our suppositions of the truth beneath the surface. 

Whether you’re a stickler for historical fiction, an adventure enthusiast, or someone wanting an insight into life as a counterintelligence officer in the 1940s, you’re sure to love The Imitator. I found myself unable to put the book down in fear of missing out on the answers that awaited me, and finished the novel in a mere few hours. I tore through its pages impatiently, needing to know more about these characters with whom I was now acquainted. Readers are placed in the middle of the action, ready to uncover the mysteries of The Imitator. 

Danielle Aylward is a fourth year QUT Creative Writing student who is interested in publishing, editing and writing. Danielle is furthering her writing through submissions in local magazines, while continuing on with longer pieces.


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