Dorian's Reviews > Farthing

Farthing by Jo Walton
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Dec 10, 2007

it was amazing
Recommended for: everybody!
Read in December, 2007

Thoughts on Jo Walton's Farthing and its sequel Ha'Penny:

Really, these are the most delightful, most exciting, most troubling, most resonant books I've read in a long time. Yes, they're genre fiction, which means they'll be dismissed by some. And what a dreadful shame that would be--I wish these books were talked about as much as some of the things that pass for "literary fiction" these days.

Even at the level of genre, they're interesting: mystery/thriller much inspired by 20s & 30s Golden Age English Detective Fiction, speculative/historical fiction (especially of the "counterfactual" sort--to wit Roth's Plot Against America, Deighton's SS-GB), as well as English fiction more generally of the 30s and 40s (Bowen, Green, Greene, etc), the sort that Sarah Waters's recent novel The Night Watch nourished itself so fruitfully on.

Lest that helter-skelter list make it sound like some dreadful pastiche--fear not! The books are above all elegant and assured.

These are the first two books in a trilogy, which is set in an imagined 1949 in which, almost a decade into a peace made with Nazi Germany, England is ruled by a law-and-order junta who have manufactured political unrest, complete with fear-mongering against Jews, Communists, queers, and other ostensible "terrorist" types. (Sound familiar?)

Each book alternates between a (different) first-person female voice and a third person voice centered around an inspector at Scotland Yard. (So they're very interesting in terms of narrative technique as well.)

At the level of politics, sexuality, aesthetics, religion, and culture these books couldn't be more interesting. I stayed up until 2 finishing Ha'Penny, absolutely riveted, but also gutted that I'd have to wait until next summer to find out what happens.

May these books find the widest possible audience.
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