Book Club in Session: The Diamond Eye by Kate Quinn

Following the films Boston Strangler and Tetris (and maybe even Cocaine Bear, if I’m being honest), The Diamond Eye marks yet another data point to form the pattern in what is quickly becoming my “I would’ve preferred a 1 hour podcast or documentary about this” month.

Let me quickly say first (for fear of taking a bullet from beyond the veil) that there is no denying Lyudmila Pavlichenko was an incredibly impressive woman. But as the lead character in a somewhat imbalanced dramatization of her life? Well, shine bright like a diamond she does not; and I can’t help but wonder if author Kate Quinn was handcuffed a bit by feeling beholden to not misrepresenting a real woman, convincing herself to reserve any real flourishes of personality or charisma to the supporting cast of characters surrounding our Mila – like her war bestie Lena, a woman I instantly loved so much that I may or may not have wished grievous injuries upon Mila just so we could spend more time with her in the field hospital. To put it simply, Mila is written rather generically, often stiff, and almost propagandistic at times in her hatred of Nazis and want to defend her country; and though you don’t need more of a reason than “they’re Nazis” to hate Nazis, it still helps to feel like there is a depth to something that motivates the rest of the novel.

“But Lauren, Mila’s motivation is protecting the future of her young son! What kind of monster sees a woman who is constantly collecting leaf samples from the front to accompany the frequent letters home to her child in an attempt to stay an active part of his life and says ‘meh’?” First of all, rude. Second of all, the kind of monster who witnessed this same woman think “now there was an incentive to dodge German bullets” as a dig at her predatory ex-husband, her young son all but forgotten. Is this an unfair read of a quip that is likely nothing more than a snide jab at an absolutely loathsome man who is more than capable of enraging even the unconscious, wounded soldiers in his care? Probably, but I may have been a bit too irked at this point to hunt for nuance thanks to one of Mila’s most infuriatingly contradictory habits: talking about her kill tally.

That freakin’ kill tally… First things first, it should be noted that I have a pet peeve when it comes to authors overusing certain words – Sarah J. Maas’ favorite form of communication is snarling, a word she uses 41 times in the third book of the Throne of Glass series (9 times more than the previous two entries combined); a totally useless fact I know. Why admit to a pet peeve so dumb? Because early on Mila takes the stance that she is against devaluing the life of an opposing soldier by seeing them as only a number, a noble stance when fighting against an army known for dehumanizing so many groups of people. And yet, whenever she needs to puff up her chest, whether it is bragging about how few shots it required to single-handedly take down a machine gun nest, or to command respect from the soldiers she must train, or in an attempt to prove her worth to her ex, or to make a promise to a girl who was brutalized by the invading forces… In other words, whenever it serves her, the number of people she has killed seems to come up over, and over, and over again.

Was my annoyance at this contradiction of character an overreaction? Maybe. But it is what it is, and that pet peeve soured so much of the book for me. Which brings me back to that comment about the “now there was an incentive to dodge German bullets” aside. Maybe it was a joke said more in Quinn’s voice than Mila’s. Or maybe it was a representation of the emotional defeatism of a woman who has gone through so much in her arc from attempting to feel little by dissociating while pulling the trigger on countless lives, to feeling too much by packing all of her rage into each and every bullet that finds its mark. A woman who has experienced a level of loss and trauma (both physical and emotional) that I can’t even begin to imagine. A woman who is so defeated that maybe she has resigned herself to the truth that getting back to her son is likely not a viable option to her anymore. But at this point, all I could see was another discrepancy in character that continued the level of disconnect I was feeling towards her.

As you can probably figure out from the paragraphs above, my interest in Mila’s story was waning dramatically by the time we got to the American press tour of her time at war. And it is only thanks to the unexpected and surprisingly charming burgeoning friendship between Mila and the “horsey bitch” Eleanor Roosevelt – a descriptor regretfully underutilized at only three times by the hitman (that’s right, there’s a plot against the president in this book) – that I was capable of trudging through the rest of the novel, which is full of some wild swings that feel disproportionately grand by comparison to the more grounded first half, let me tell ya.

Like I said, The Diamond Eye is a bit imbalanced. There’s definitely heart there, and I’m glad Quinn took the time to introduce us to one hell of a lady in Lyudmila Pavlichenko. I just wish I’d had more fun reading about her.

Oh, and in case anyone’s curious: the words Mila uses the most are “my partner” in reference to her right hand sniper; 81 times to be exact.

Who picked The Diamond Eye?: My mom
Would I have picked it for myself?: I do have one of Quinn’s other novels (The Alice Network) on my to read pile, so it’s possible. But considering how long that book has been collecting dust, I can’t say it would’ve been probable.
Average Rating (MIL, SIL, sister, BIL, me, mom, FIL): 3.5 out of 5

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