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

by Jo Walton

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1,218976,542 (3.85)1 / 244
Recently added byprivate library, parasolofdoom, chocolatedog, dannotdan, ArchanaV, timetunnel, rossarn, amobogio
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    SS-GB by Len Deighton (aulsmith)
    aulsmith: Detectives try to survive in Fascist England
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Showing 1-5 of 97 (next | show all)
Summary: Lucy Kahn and her husband David were surprised to be invited to her parents' country estate for a summer retreat in 1949: Her parents are party of the elite "Farthing set," a party of upper-class British politicians, and they've never approved of her marriage to David, who is a Jew. They do their best to blend in, Lucy slipping more or less easily back into the wealth and priviledge with which she grew up... until on the first night of the party, one of the Farthing Set's most prominent men is murdered. It immediately becomes clear that David intended to be framed for the murder, as the scene involved several elements that indicated that a Jewish conspiracy was involved. Now it's up to Lucy, and to Inspector Carmichael from Scotland Yard, to prove that David is innocent, or else the political and social consequences could be devastating... because while the 1949 England of Farthing is largely the same as the 1949 England we're familiar with, the small change is that the Allies did not in fact win World War II, and the members of the Farthing Set were responsible for brokering peace with Herr Hitler.

Review: This book made me intensely uncomfortable, but uncomfortable in the best way possible. Everything about this book is sharp - the writing, the mystery, the pacing, and most of all the social commentary. So sharp that it manages to cut to the bone before you're even aware of what's happened. It starts out like a more-or-less standard murder mystery, where you're thinking "okay, Lucy's parents are a little bit racist, but that probably wasn't unusual for upper-class Brits at the time," and then gradually you start to accumulate hints that something's gone wrong, something's not quite right about this world and about these people, as Walton keeps filling in little details about how the world got to be the way it is. This subtle wrongness is accentuated with a horrifying (but equally slowly building) sense of just how close this world is to our world. How easy it is to slide from "normal" prejudice into outright fascism, and how few people would actually stand to oppose it, if they recognized what was happening at all. It's incisive social commentary, masterfully handled so that it's never spelled out (and thus never runs the risk of getting preachy), and trusts the reader enough to understand the point and draw the parallels on their own.

I do wonder how this book would have read when it first came out a decade ago. Reading it last summer, it was, as I said, equal parts horrifying and cutting and fascinating, and certainly relevant. But as much as I enjoyed it (maybe not the right word, it's too uncomfortable-making to really be "enjoyed"), after the U.S. Presidential election in November, I couldn't bring myself to listen to the next books in the series... it seems like we are now even closer to the world of Farthing, and it had gone from uncomfortable to anxiety-inducing just how thin the veil that separates us from them had now become. I'm working myself back up to it, though, because this really was an excellent book, in spite of (or in addition to?) how sharply it cuts. The characters are interesting and compelling and sympathetic (Lucy, David, and the inspector, at any rate), the mystery is well constructed, and it's easy to read and incredibly easy to get absorbed in; I tore through the audiobook in only a few days, needing to find out what happened next. I did have a bit of a problem keeping some of the names of some of the secondary character straight (one that probably would have been alleviated if I'd read the paper version rather than the audiobook, so it would be easier to flip back and check.) I also think there's probably some subtleties regarding British politics and their parliamentary system that went over my head, that might have made things even more complex. But even so, this book was an incredible read, and one that sticks with you, haunts you, long after you've read it. And even when you might want to just dismiss it as just speculative fiction, alternative history, fantasy, there's always that lingering doubt that it's not... not quite. 4.5 out of 5 stars.

Recommendation: It's not a light read, especially not in the current political climate, but it is an excellent and compelling one. If you don't need your reading to be too escapist, I highly recommend it. ( )
  fyrefly98 | Jun 9, 2017 |
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 |
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» Add other authors (3 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Jo Waltonprimary authorall editionscalculated
Lachmann, NoraTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
s.BENešCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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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)

(summary from another edition)

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