observations: My good friend TracyK of the Bitter Tea and Mystery blog has recommended Jo Walton before now, and someone (not sure who) definitely said I should try this book. But even without this strong reco, one line in the introductory acknowledgements would have sealed the deal. Jo Walton says:
This story arose largely out of my thoughts on various political situations, and out of wondering what date Josephine Tey could have imagined Brat Farrar to be set.Now Brat Farrar is a book that I love. It has featured twice on the blog, and one of my comments was:
The book is plainly set around the time it was published, and although there is remarkably little mention of the 1939-45 war, there is a lot about the way upper and upper middle class families in England had changed over recent years.
--- so it is a question that has occurred to me too.
Farthing is alternative history: Walton has imagined that Britain made peace with Germany around 1940, and now Hitler controls the continent of Europe while the UK stands firm on its own. But this Britain is falling into nastiness: anti-semitism is rife, and many of the main characters of the book are the Farthing Set, a group that believed in good relations with Germany and wanted to keep power. Mixed in with the political story is an old-fashioned country house detective story. The book is told in alternating narratives – beginning with a first-person version from Lucy, daughter of the central family, but someone who has moved away from them, and also done the unthinkable and married a Jewish man. The other sections are a 3rd person story following the policeman investigating a death at Farthing, the house.
I loved this book: it was an enthralling page-turner, but full of thought-provoking political ideas as well, and she used the alternative history aspect to great effect – I thought it was much more successful than CJ Sansom’s similarly-imagined Dominion, on the blog here. It’s the first in a trilogy and I certainly hope to go on to read the next two books. Walton is a noted writer of fantasy also.
Walton says she was influenced by the crime writer Peter Dickinson, and indeed some of Lucy’s sections are perfect pastiches of Dickinson – he’s on the blog here, giving voice to a very similar female character. The book is set mostly in Hampshire (where Dickinson lives as it happens) and that was done well – I was impressed by their having watercress soup at dinner, as this is very much a local speciality.
More alternative history in DJ Taylor’s The Windsor Faction on the blog.
The evening dress is from Dovima is devine: the riding clothes are those we used, exactly, on the blog to illustrate an entry from Brat Farrar. In another entry we discussed wearing yellow jerseys to go riding in, with reference to Vita Sackville-West and Enid Blyton. There’s a different photo of the same horsewoman, and a lot of discussion of yellow jerseys in the comments.