Alan's Reviews > Farthing

Farthing by Jo Walton
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it was amazing
Recommended to Alan by: The author's presence
Recommended for: Any students of human nature
Read 2 times. Last read November 9, 2008.

"Never read anything with a swastika on the cover."

By and large, those are words to live by. There are altogether too many books about the Nazis already, far too much attention paid to their poisonous philosophy. Far too many parallel histories, counterfactuals, alternate worlds, what-might-have-beens and what-have-yous peek, with horrified fascination and sickly undertones of lust, at all of those possible Earths where the Nazis won.

But as with every maxim (and this is something the Nazis might themselves have learned), there are occasional exceptions. Len Deighton's SS-GB is one. Robert Harris' Fatherland is another. Oh, and Kris Rusch's Hitler's Angel, too.

And now, Jo Walton's Farthing - and its sequel, Ha'Penny, which I read shortly thereafter - prove that, in the right hands, there's life in the old trope yet.

I've been an admirer of Walton's prose for quite awhile anyway, since at least 1995 - well before she was published in book form. Her articulate posts on the Usenet newsgroup rec.arts.sf.written were a mainstay during that arena's heyday. We exchanged emails for awhile; I even sent her an autographed copy of Jack Womack's Random Acts of Senseless Violence, back in 1996. So I guess you can count me as a long-time admirer and fan. And Walton's recent works just reinforce this impression.

It's 1949 as Farthing begins, and something has gone terribly wrong. England is still free of Nazi rule, having negotiated a lasting "Peace with Honour" back in 1941, but she's staring uneasily across the channel at a Continent entirely under the sway of the Third Reich. Hitler is still alive, and the Germans are embroiled in what appears to be an endless war with the Soviet Union. England herself is alone... there are only scattered hints about what happened to the United States (a Lindbergh presidency, presumably isolationist at best and fascist at worst - Philip Roth's The Plot Against America would dovetail neatly here) but it's readily apparent that there are no Allied powers in this world.

But it's an ill wind indeed that blows no favor, and in this world that favor has gone to the Farthing Set, those upper-class British families and friends who among them engineered the Peace, and who have since benefited both politically and financially from England's collective sigh of relief, once the bombs stopped falling.

Lucy Kahn is a member of the Farthing Set by birth - daughter of Lord Eversley, one of the principal architects of the Peace. But, like many children of privilege, she sees her upbringing as something to escape, rather than to emulate. So she has married for love, instead of money or influence. She has married a Jew, David Kahn - not the safest of courses even for a scion of the elite, in this nasty, brutish and foreshortened Britain.

For of course the Jews, those few who are left, are still the targets of Hitler's hatred, and England's home-grown fascists are coming into their own ascendancy. Most of the English have convinced themselves that things aren't so bad after all. And even though David is a wonderful husband, kind and attentive and successful (his bank is pioneering a technique that we in this world are only now getting around to, issuing micro-loans to struggling one-family businesses), he comes immediately under suspicion of murder when James Thirkie, another of the Farthing Set, turns up stabbed to death...

Walton paints a grim but all-too-plausible picture of a country sliding down a slippery slope into fascism, minutely observed and brilliantly realized.

The trilogy concludes with Half a Crown, which I eagerly anticipate reading.
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Reading Progress

Started Reading
November 9, 2008 – Finished Reading
December 6, 2008 – Shelved
Started Reading (Paperback Edition)
March 31, 2018 – Finished Reading (Paperback Edition)
April 1, 2018 – Shelved (Paperback Edition)

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