A landing spot for reviews of interesting books, films, and objects what cross my path
as well as the occasional essay on whatever's pinging the old brain pan.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Book Review: Farthing, Jo Walton

Farthing posits an alternate history in which Britain negotiates a "Peace with Honour" with Hitler in 1941. By 1949 when the novel takes place, Hitler had overrun Europe, Nazi death camps still operate, the US (where Lindbergh is president) had closed its borders, and antisemitism runs rampant in Britain. The story is told from the point of view of Lucy Kahn, the daughter of a powerful aristocratic family with whom she has fallen out of favor because of her recent marriage to a Jewish banker, and from the point of view of a Scotland Yard detective who is called to Lucy's family's estate to investigate the murder of a political heavy-weight who was staying there for the weekend. The novel works much like a cozy murder mystery, with investigations into the murder forming the backbone of the story. And that format makes this history even more sinister than it already seems at first glance. Because so much of the story reads like a gentle murder story in which nothing too terribly awful will happen, the little details of the way the world works in the alternate history are all the more sharp and shocking and terrifying.

While I enjoyed Farthing a lot (it's written just wonderfully, and Walton handles her characters, setting, and plot deftly), the book did feel a bit uneven. It eventually becomes clear that things are even a lot worse than they appear in this version of Britain, and the book goes from interestingly sinister to downright chilling in the last few chapters. That move was appropriate, and, indeed, it felt the like the book was building toward it all along. But the transition still seemed a little rushed, and the novel ultimately felt not wholly in balance because of it. I'm also still puzzling over Walton's choice to make so many of her characters here secretly gay. Of the major players (easily a dozen), at least five turn out to be Also Gay, by which I mean they are introduced as having a certain bearing on the story (such as being a major figure in the politics of Britain) and then a while later we find out that they are also gay (or bi) (with the fact of their sexuality rarely having anything to do with the plot). I am always happy to see people who historically have often been elided from fiction better represented on the page, but the way Walton kept sliding this fact in about many of her characters led me to suspect that the fact of their sexuality was going be become very important either thematically or in the plot. And it never did.  Curious. Perhaps it will become clear in the second book in the series, which I am excited to read.

This review originally appeared on my LibraryThing account.

No comments:

Post a Comment