BookBrowse Reviews Farthing by Jo Walton

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Farthing

by Jo Walton

Farthing by Jo Walton X
Farthing by Jo Walton
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     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Aug 2006, 320 pages
    Paperback:
    Aug 2007, 320 pages

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Farthing is a compelling story of encroaching darkness and the people who ultimately decide to resist it

At first glance Farthing appears to be a typical country house mystery - the setting is the South of England, close to the market town of Winchester and everyone is well spoken and properly dressed; but don't be fooled - the storyline quickly blasts through the confines of a "cozy" mystery to explore many themes including politics, justice and class, but most importantly, through the vehicle of alternate history, the nature of history itself and how we must never be complacent about the future, because history can and does turn on a dime, or in this case a farthing*.

Within a few pages the reader becomes aware that all is not as it should be in England's green and pleasant land. It's 1949 and the war is over - but it's been over since 1941 because Britain made peace with Germany, leaving Hitler to rule Europe. Churchill has long been sidelined to the back benches, the worst aspects of the British class system are flourishing, and ultra-conservatives with aspirations of becoming full-blown fascists, like their admired neighbor across the Channel, are in control of the government. Meanwhile, on the other side of the Atlantic, Nazi-sympathizer Charles Lindbergh is President, leaving Canada as one of the few safe-havens for European Jews.

The story is told from two perspectives; firstly by Lucy, the apparently scatterbrained daughter of the house, married to Jewish David; Lucy constantly puts herself down in a way that is quintessentially English - a persona still to be found in many bright English women who have become habituated to hiding their intelligence (even from themselves) for fear of being thought too clever. The other viewpoint is that of Inspector Carmichael of Scotland Yard who is nobody's fool and has his own axe to grind. As the events unfold from the different perspectives of Carmichael and Lucy it is as if a movie camera is zooming out - first the focus is on the Farthing estate, but slowly the lens draws back to give us a wider view of events, and their sinister implications.

This is a fine, thought provoking book, easily on a par with Philip Roth's The Plot Against America.

*A farthing (meaning fourth part) was legal tender in Britain until 1960, and was worth one quarter of a penny. Up until 1971, when Britain's currency was decimalized, there were 12 pennies to a shilling, 20 shillings to the pound, and five shillings to the crown - thus 240 pennies in a pound.

This review was originally published in September 2006, and has been updated for the August 2007 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.

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