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Farthing by Jo Walton
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Farthing (original 2006; edition 2006)

by Jo Walton

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978758,803 (3.87)1 / 188
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Showing 1-5 of 75 (next | show all)
Oh wow. This was the kind of book where you want an excuse to have doctor appointments or long care rides, just so you can keep on reading. Foremost, its a mystery novel in the grand tradition of Agatha Christie. However, the alternative history component is not mere window-dressing--it's everything. Britain declared a cease fire with Germany in 1941 and by 1949 has slid into their own sort of fascism. The scope of racism and homophobia in the book is horrifying because it feels so real.

Despite my massive to-read piles, I've ordered the next two books in the trilogy. I'll impatiently await their arrival. ( )
  ladycato | Jul 12, 2014 |
Halfway through rereading this, I stalled for a moment, thinking about the ending. See, the book starts out seeming pretty fun, despite the dark threats in the background: there's plainly loving pastiche of Dorothy L. Sayers going on, and Lucy Kahn's narration is lively and silly. All of that disguises, for a while, how serious the themes turn -- and when they do, when the bottom of Carmichael's life drops out, you'll feel it too. I quoted Dar Williams' song Buzzer when I first reviewed this, and it still applies: I get it now/I'm the face, I'm the cause of war/We don't have to blame white-coated men anymore (it's an amazing song, about Stanley Milgram's obedience to authority experiments).

All in all, it's just so well done. The pastiche works, and so does every aspect of the alternate history. The details are tweaked, and it all feels so plausible. I love the image of Churchill's defiance of the events that create the background of and overshadow this book. For something that seems light at times, a pastiche, it turns out to be so horrifying -- and not in the sense of gore and monsters, in the sense of how people can be so completely plausibly awful.

Personally, I love how Walton handles the minorities here, too: their individual voices, their differing hopes and fears, their differing ways of living in a world that's trying to push them and their kind out. I mean, it's obvious I'm already a fan, here, but I just think she gets so much right. ( )
2 vote shanaqui | Apr 28, 2014 |
I selected this one on the grounds that I'd loved the two previous Jo Walton books that I'd read, Among Others and Tooth and Claw, so when I was looking for a book that would really draw me in Jo Walton seemed an obvious choice. But unfortunately, while this was a good enough read it didn't grab my attention as much as those other books have done. There are a number of reasons for this, and I'm probably going to spend most of this review explaining why I didn't love what is in essence a decent book, which is probably a little unfair...

In the 1940's Lucy Kahn is attending a weekend house party at her ancestral home, Farthings Castle, together with her husband David. Lucy had married the son of a Jewish banker, much to the disapproval of her aristocratic family, and her husband is tolerated at best. And when a fellow guest, Sir James Fairlie, is found murdered with indications that the murderer might have been Jewish, suspicion immediately falls on David Kahn. For in this version of the 1940's Britain made peace with Hitler's Germany in 1941, and Sir James Fairlie was the man who made it happen, as well as being part of a government which is making anti-semitism more and more acceptable. But Inspector Carmichael, drafted in from Scotland Yard, starts to think that the obvious solution is just a little too simple ...

I have three main problems with this book. The first is that it is a clear reworking of the country house mystery genre, which is one that I have never read or really been attracted to. The second, which I can't really elaborate on without going into spoilers, is that the reason finally identified for the murder seems altogether implausible and (to me at least) a hugely unlikely way for anyone to go about achieving its stated aim.

But my third and main problem is that I don't really believe in the alternative world that has been created. It might be the view of Britain that you could believe in from reading nothing but the country house mysteries mentioned above, a world of the aristocracy and the upper middle classes, a place where the poorer classes are represented only as servants and villains, but even before the Second World War this was a society on the way out. And in this novel it is key to the plot that the Farthings Set, an aristocratic political grouping with distinctly fascist leanings, are leading a popular government despite having the sort of policies which seem designed to completely disempower the working classes. And it's here that my major problems start as I just can't imagine any government of the time getting away with the sort of policies that the Farthing set seem to be enacting quite easily, without there being major political and social insurrection (riots, general strikes, marches, you get the idea). While I can imagine certain members of the aristocracy wanting to do it, I just can't imagine them actually being able to do it without meaningful opposition. The government has apparently been voted in in 'gratitude' for the peace that the Farthing Set brokered, but I'm not a great believer in gratitude when it comes to politics. After all Churchill was widely credited by the British people with winning the Second World War but it didn't stop him being thrown out on his ear when it came to the election in 1945!

So complaints over, this is still a decent read that's well worth giving a go. And I will certainly be trying the next one in the series. But it certainly doesn't live up to her other work in my opinion. ( )
  SandDune | Mar 24, 2014 |
A modern take on the country-house murder mystery set in an alternative version of history where WWII ended with the Hess Peace in 1941. Inspired by the works of Josephine Tey and Dorothy Sayers this is an enjoyable read but doesn't quite live up to the works that inspired it. ( )
  Figgles | Mar 22, 2014 |
I did react, I know I did. It was fury, at Mummy, and at the rest of them, whoever they were, for being so stupid, so prejudiced, so unthinkingly vile as to think that just because David was Jewish he was likely to be a murderer. If I'd never known David I might have carried on thinking all these people were basically good people, with odd little quirks perhaps, but I'd never have understood how foul they were. David took the blinkers off for me, and I've never been sorry, because who would want to go around in a world that's like a very thin strip of pretty flower garden surrounded by fields and fields of stinking manure that stretch out as far as the eye can see? And it's not as if those people are the only people in the world, though they may imagine they are.

A country house murder mystery set in 1949, in an alternate history, where Great Britain took Rudolf Hess up on his offer and made peace with Germany in 1941 and the USA never entered the war. It reads like a cosy mystery, with a murder during a house party at Farthing, whose owners the Eversleys are at the heart of the Farthing Set "a group of loosely connected movers and shakers, politicians, soldiers, socialites, financiers: the people who had brought peace to England". The story is narrated in alternately by Lucy Kahn, daughter of Lord and Lady Eversley, who has recently married a Jewish banker, much to her parents' horror, and Inspector Carmichael of Scotland Yard, who is one of a surprisingly large number of gay and bisexual characters (although his sexuality, at least, did play a part in the resolution of the story). Lucy is a likeable character, but I found her habit of putting her hand over her mouth to stop herself from blurting out whatever came into her mind, irritating rather than endearing. And although she immediately understood that her husband would be suspected of the murder, for some reason she didn't bother to tell the police about the suspicious behaviour of her mother and things she knew about some of the other guests that gave them a motive for the murder. I was glad that the Kahns escaped to Canada in the end, but it was all a bit easy for them, once they got in contact with Abby. ( )
  isabelx | Mar 20, 2014 |
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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 Mon, 30 Sep 2013 14:01:46 -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)

(summary from another edition)

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