Friday, 1 August 2014

Farthing by Jo Walton

published 2006





[I] dragged on the dress someone had taken the trouble to lay out for me. It happened to be the purple thing from the Worth collection. It’s not really purple, it’s lavender with a purple creeping-leaf design all over it, and I remembered after I had put it on that it was floor-length, which meant my hair had to go up. I fixed it up just anyhow, sticking about ninety pins in it…










I hadn’t brought riding clothes down with me. But I knew I had an old pair of black jodhpurs in the back of my closet… I pulled on the jodhpurs, struggling to do them up. I’d put weight on in London. I added a cream pullover and the jacket of my heather tweeds. I’d brought the tweeds because tweeds are always correct in the country.











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.

14 comments:

  1. Ah, Brat Farrar and Farthing - perfect combination. I have yet to read the rest of the trilogy, but am reminded now how much I enjoyed the first one.

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    1. Jut like me - I'm trying to clear the decks of some books at the moment, but once I'm getting new ones in again I really want to continue with this trilogy.

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  2. Sounds good, but I'm not sure about the alt-history set up. I've read about it before, but never taken the plunge. On reflection - a pass from me.

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    1. I intend to read more by Walton, so if the rest is as good I will try to persuade you to try her...

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  3. Thanks Moira - new author for me (and decades since I read Dickinson)

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    1. I was always a big fan of Dickinson - I should do a bit of re-reading there. And really liked Jo Walton, I'm looking forward to exploring more.

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  4. Moira - What an interesting mix of sociocultural commentary, speculation and mystery. Little wonder you enjoyed it so much, and I do recall that Tracy did too. That's enough for me!

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    1. Yes, when your fellow-bloggers gang up it's hard to resist isn't it? ;)

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  5. Moira, the alternative history part is interesting, almost sounding like a spoof in a way, and yet it has some truth in it considering that many rich and influential people in the West including politicians were sympathetic towards Hitler's Germany.

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    1. I don't think it was nearly as impossible as we would like to hope - I find this kind of alternate history fascinating, but also a bit uncomfortable.

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  6. Too much here to comment on. Thanks for the mention. I loved this book, then was a bit disappointed with book 2 in the trilogy, but book 3 made up for it.

    I had forgotten the acknowledgements mentioning Tey and Dickinson. I have read all of Tey (twice) but am very far behind on Peter Dickinson. My favorite is King and Joker, and I have a copy with a wonderful skull on it. I should read that again (for the third time). But I have at least 10 of his books in my TBR stacks and boxes.

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    1. Did you ever review this one on your blog Tracy? I looked and couldn't find it, which is why I wasn't sure if it was you who had recommended this book to me - I know I had come across this author on your blog, but not sure about the book. You don't hear much of Peter Dickinson these days, but I thought he was one of the greats. Some re-reading beckons - it's a long time since I read King and Joker.

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    2. I read all of the trilogy before I started blogging, so no, no review on the blog. I probably did recommend this one. I remember it so well. It got me interested in country house mysteries again, and then all the ones I have found since haven't had the same elements I liked.

      Someday I will reread them I am sure. I read Farthing in 2007, the 2nd one in 2008, then put off the last one until 2011, and was sorry I had waited so long.

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    3. OK I definitely need to get on with these. I'm trying not to buy books for a month while I clear the pile, but will then put the next Jo Walton at the top of the list.

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