Enigma (novel)

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First UK edition

Enigma is a novel by Robert Harris about Tom Jericho, a young mathematician trying to break the Germans' "Enigma" ciphers during World War II. It was adapted to film in 2001. He is stationed in Bletchley Park, the British cryptologist central office, and is worked to the point of exhaustion.

Plot summary[edit]

Jericho is a doctoral student of the mathematician Alan Turing at a Cambridge college. When the war starts Turing and other professors disappear, recruited as code breakers by the Government Code and Cypher School (GC&CS). Eventually Jericho is also roped in, at the invitation of Atwood who is professor of ancient history at the same college. At Bletchley the code breakers are an eclectic academic set, under pressure to break the Enigma code used by German U-boats wreaking havoc on British and American shipping in the Atlantic. The tension is magnified by internal turf rivalry between the allies over the cryptography effort, with the Americans of the opinion that the chummy common-room efforts of the British operation cannot sustain the decryption speed and volume required to win the Battle of the Atlantic. In the book Turing himself is absent from Bletchley, on a trip to Washington D.C.

On a train en route to Bletchley, Jericho happens to meet the attractive Claire Romilly who works as a clerk at one of the huts, temporary buildings on the park grounds housing the growing code breaking effort. Jericho helps Claire finish the Times crossword with ease and the two strike up a friendship. Claire's upper-crust manner reflects what Baxter (a code breaker with leftist views) terms as the organization of Bletchley Park along British class lines. Society debutantes are chosen to handle sensitive transcription whereas the more mundane tasks are delegated to young women from working-class backgrounds. As Jericho gets closer to Claire, he also discovers a weakness in U-boat Enigma protocol that leads to the U-boat code being cracked, thereby establishing his reputation among the code breakers. One night Jericho is stunned to see intercepted (but still encoded) signal transcription forms in Claire's bedroom, a serious violation of security procedure. Confronted with the forms Claire reacts in an emotionally wounded manner, which also signals the end of Jericho's romance with her. However Jericho does not report the incident or the security breach. In the following days Jericho desperately attempts to meet Claire once again, and slowly tips himself over the edge of a nervous breakdown. He is sent back to his college to recover.

When the Germans change the Enigma naval code book, the Bletchley Park code breakers lose their back door and are forced to bring Jericho back. This is in fact how the book begins. Thereafter the plot unravels to answer a series of questions: What are the papers in Claire's bedroom? Is she a spy? How much can Jericho trust Kramer, an American naval officer and one of Claire's many lovers? What is the role of the supercilious upper-crust investigator Wigram? How much does Claire's room mate Hester Wallace know? Are Jericho's hut colleagues Atwood, Pinker, Puck, Baxter ... jealous of him? Will Jericho break the code for a second time as one of the largest convoys steams across the Atlantic pursued by U-boat wolf packs?

Apart from the plot, the book is notable for its grim descriptions of winter in a war-torn Britain.

The book, though fiction, is criticised by people who were at Bletchley Park as bearing little resemblance to the real wartime Bletchley Park.[1]

Edition[edit]

See also[edit]

  • Enigma — a film based upon this book

References[edit]

  1. ^ Cracking the Luftwaffe Codes, Gwen Watkins, Greenhill Books 2006, ISBN 978-1-85367-687-1