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Farthing by Jo Walton
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Farthing (2006)

by Jo Walton

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1,208966,620 (3.85)1 / 243
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Showing 1-5 of 96 (next | show all)
Lucy Eversley married David Kahn, not a popular choice for a deb of the Farthing set to do in the aftermath of World War 2. The Farthing set brokered a peace with Hitler, who on the Continent continues waging war with Russia. Even though England is free, Jews are not popular. Then at a house party her mother puts on, one of the guests - the very one who brokered that peace - is killed, and all the evidence points rather sloppily to David. Inspector Carmichael of Scotland Yard is called in, and in alternating chapters he and Lucy try to get to the bottom of who killed James Thirkie and who stands to profit.

Welcome to a world that could have been - where governments are corrupt, power is in the hands of the few, and there is one law for the rich and another for the poor. What are you willing to compromise to keep yourself and the people you love free? Who is guilty or innocent, and what are an individual's responsibilities in a society that couldn't care less about certain unpopular groups? I generally prefer books to have characters I can really get to know and get behind, and I spent most of the book wondering what on earth was going on. The ending will not be satisfying for traditional mystery readers, but certainly gives a lot of food for thought. I would be interested in seeing where the trilogy goes from here. ( )
  bell7 | May 20, 2017 |
Farthing is an alternative history mystery, which succeeds in both genres. Some books kill a character off apparently only as an excuse to bring the other characters together, and the mystery becomes incidental to the "real" story. Not an issue with Farthing, where the murder stays at the center of the story. It works well with the alternative history: in the real world, there'd be far less reason to frame David Kahn, but in this world, the political motives are clear.

And this world is believable: a major change from reality shown to us in small, personal ways. The change—peace with Hitler—was recent enough that it hadn't yet made Farthing's Britain unrecognizable, but long enough ago that it wasn't the only thing the characters could talk about. Walton presents this world in a restrained, natural way. There was the occasional expository mini-lump, but generally, you learn about this world in bits and pieces as you need to. The narration alternates between Lucy Kahn and Inspector Carmichael. Each has their own distinct voice, and not just because Lucy's chapters are in first person and Carmichael's are in third person—yay! I did have a bit of difficulty remembering all the secondary characters, though, simply because there were several of them, but this got easier as the book went on.

Farthing is the first book of a trilogy, but it stands well on its own. It was written in 2006 and I've been meaning to read it for years, but kept not getting around to it. It's seemed a bit more relevant lately, though, and I finally pushed myself to tackle it. I'm glad I did, and I already have Ha'penny on reserve at the library. ( )
  Silvernfire | Apr 11, 2017 |
Starts off well with a murder mystery. Gets a bit bogged down & muddled in the middle as the lead detective and his sergeant toss theories back & forth and the minutiae of life at Farthing House takes center stage. Really picks up in the 2nd half but leaves the reader with a very abrupt and unsatisfying ending that is still rather perfect in a way.

I did enjoy the alternating chapters being told via first-person by Lucy Kahn on the one hand and the third-person perspective following Detective Carmichael's investigation on the other.

Walton is a gifted writer who has crafted an uncomfortable read, (intentionally so, I'm sure). Some of the socio-political proselytizing is a bit heavy-handed at times but the alternate reality she imagines is very pertinent - almost prescient - to what is happening in western society today. Laced with the, "It can't happen here", mantra, this is a scary and disturbing tale.

As soon as I finished this, I picked up the next volume in the series. ( )
  ScoLgo | Jan 30, 2017 |
I know, it's interesting that I gave this book three stars but didn't finish it myself. Let me explain. The premise, it's after WWII; Hitler and England have brokered peace; a murder occurs on a country estate. From the summary alone this seemed up my alley but I just couldn't get in to the book. I felt the lead protagonist was bit of a drip and the pacing was too slow. I gave it a good go of nearly 100 pages but if you haven't captured the reader's interest this point, why finish?

All of this and with the resolution given on the last few pages, I concluded this book wasn't worth finishing.

I can see, however, why people would like this book. The premise is interesting and the writing was technically good, Sadly, it's just for me. ( )
  byshieldmaiden | Jan 17, 2017 |
Farthing takes place in an alternate history, one where Britain made peace with Nazi Germany in 1941 leaving the USSR to fight alone. This is an England where Churchill never came to power and the social revolution of the postwar period never happened. An intriguing scenario which grabbed me straight away. But instead of a ‘what if?’ political thriller, the opening chapter read like a trad cosy crime country house whodunnit.
And that’s the extreme cleverness of Farthing. On one level it is an accomplished English murder-mystery, where all the drama comes from below stairs gossip. Then there’s a much more insidious side to it all, a creeping sinister realisation that the ditzy debutante and the honest cop who narrate alternate chapters of the story are gradually uncovering a very different postwar Britain to the one in our history books.

In this opening episode in the Small Change trilogy, the fictitious equivalents of the Bloomsbury set have negotiated a peace which allowed Hitler to concentrate his war efforts to the east. Soviet Russia is still fighting the sieges and famous battles, but instead of sympathy the communists evoke suspicion in the British people… as do the steady flow of Jewish refugees, fleeing the camps on the Continent. The UK government is gradually veering towards the right, in scary, subtle ways
In the midst of all this, a prominent member of the government has been murdered and a well-to-do Jew, husband of the flighty narrator, becomes a prime suspect. The policeman – a complex character who grew on me as the plot progressed – can see that all is not as it seems… but will he be able to conduct an honest investigation? And if he does, then what will it reveal?
(I go into more detail about the plot and characters at:
http://murdermayhemandmore.wordpress.com/2014/06/13/farthing-sly-subtle-and-soph... )

It’s smart, subtle writing and the comparisons with early Le Carre are more than fair. Walton uses an intimate investigation and two very personal viewpoints to examine the collapse of the British character. It’s all rather refreshing; occasionally wickedly witty, which only serves to underline the reader’s guilty realisation of enjoying the tale while the country is surreptitiously being fed to the political dogs…

Farthing touches on the very issue which allows radicalism to take ahold of any nation state: when and how do ordinary people abandon the principles of liberty and become the baying mob? It’s chilling, thought-provoking stuff, and at the same time extremely entertaining – not relentlessly grim or oppressive, unlike most novels which explore this subject. However, things are likely to take a gloomy turn in Book Two, I suspect.
9/10
( )
  RowenaHoseason | Jun 22, 2016 |
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Epigraph
Every farthing of the cost,

All the dreaded cards foretell,

Shall be paid, but from this night,

Not a whisper, not a thought,

Not a kiss nor look be lost.

—W.H. Auden, "Lullaby (Lay Your Sleeping Head, My Love)" (1937)
All the brass instruments and big drums in the world cannot turn "God Save the King" into a good tune, but on the very rare occasions when it is sung in full it does spring to life in the two lines:

Confound their politics,

Frustrate their knavish tricks!
And, in fact, I had always imagined that this second verse is habitually left out because of a vague suspicion on the part of the Tories that these lines refer to themselves.

—George Orwell, "As I Please" (December 31, 1943)
Dedication
This novel is for everyone who has ever studied any monstrosity of history, with the serene satisfaction of being horrified while knowing exactly what was going to happen, rather like studying a dragon anatomised upon a table, and then turning around and finding the dragon's present-day relations standing close by, alive and ready to bite.
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It started when David came in from the lawn absolutely furious.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Haiku summary
Makes peace with Hitler, / Andʻs killed,
(but not FOR that.)   Plot. /
Alternate Past.  Flight.

Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 076535280X, Mass Market Paperback)

One summer weekend in 1949--but not our 1949--the well-connected "Farthing set", a group of upper-crust English families, enjoy a country retreat. Lucy is a minor daughter in one of those families; her parents were both leading figures in the group that overthrew Churchill and negotiated peace with Herr Hitler eight years before.
 
Despite her parents' evident disapproval, Lucy is married--happily--to a London Jew. It was therefore quite a surprise to Lucy when she and her husband David found themselves invited to the retreat. It's even more startling when, on the retreat's first night, a major politician of the Farthing set is found gruesomely murdered, with abundant signs that the killing was ritualistic.
 
It quickly becomes clear to Lucy that she and David were brought to the retreat in order to pin the murder on him. Major political machinations are at stake, including an initiative in Parliament, supported by the Farthing set, to limit the right to vote to university graduates. But whoever's behind the murder, and the frame-up, didn't reckon on the principal investigator from Scotland Yard being a man with very private reasons for sympathizing with outcasts…and looking beyond the obvious.
 
As the trap slowly shuts on Lucy and David, they begin to see a way out--a way fraught with peril in a darkening world.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:23:51 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

"One summer weekend in 1949 - but not our 1949 - the well-connected "Farthing set," a group of upper-crust English families, enjoys a country retreat. Lucy is a minor daughter in one of those families; her parents were both leading figures in the group that overthrew Churchill and negotiated peace with Herr Hitler eight years earlier." "Despite her parents' evident disapproval, Lucy is married - happily - to a London Jew. It was therefore quite a surprise to Lucy when she and her husband, David, found themselves invited to the retreat. It's even more startling when, on the retreat's first night, a major politician of the Farthing set is found gruesomely murdered, with abundant signs that the killing was ritualistic." "It quickly becomes clear to Lucy that she and her husband were brought to the retreat in order to pin the murder on David. Major political machinations are at stake, including an initiative in Parliament, supported by the Farthing set, to limit the right to vote to university graduates. But whoever's behind the murder, and the frame-up, didn't reckon on the principal investigator from Scotland Yard being a man with very private reasons for sympathizing with outcasts ... and looking beyond the obvious. As the trap slowly shuts on Lucy and David, they begin to see a way out - a way fraught with peril in a darkening world."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

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