Farthing — Jo Walton

Folks, this is AWESOME.

Okay, basically Walton’s set this alternative history in a world where Britain and Germany work things out, and WWII never happens. Germany’s building concentration camps ALL over the continent, and things suck for Eastern European Jews. Britain’s got its own issues with rising fascism, but, interestingly, Walton examines this rise in the upper classes. So, what we’re looking at are the political machinations leading up to such a consolidation of racial antipathy and political power. We’re also looking at how women’s sexuality and bodies become political fodder in this vast political machine.

On to the plot! Lucy, an aristocratic Englishwoman, falls deeply in love with a Jew, David, who served in the British Army alongside Lucy’s deceased brother. Their love, though intense and beautiful, is just the backdrop — what matters right now is that someone in Lucy’s social set is framing David for a political murder. Lucy and Detective Carmichael, the closeted detective investigating the murder, are in a race against time to find the REAL murderers before David is locked and sentenced to death.

Lucy emerges as an intelligent, caring narrator of sometimes startling cleverness. David, her husband, is also believably idealistic — as the tide of public opinion turns against them, it’s Lucy who begins planning for what they’ll do if they need to flee the country. It’s rare the interracial marriages are treated so well; the reasons behind David’s idealism and his fervent investment in acting more British than the Brits are sympathetically explored through Lucy’s perspective as a member of the class to which he would assimilated, even as she knows that his Jewish identity is so paramount that he will never actually be allowed to assimilate.

Walton also treats sexuality with a delicate finesse. Carmichael’s lover is never introduced to the reader, but that love is also central to the story’s resolution. The connection between rising anti-Semitism and rising homophobia is closely examined as Carmichael carefully negotiates his dual identities as a policeman and a gay man in a world where sexuality is policed. This theme will, I think, come up again in Walton’s Ha’Penny where Carmichael is also the narrator.


  1. Karen says

    I had my sf book group read this, and it was one of the few that everyone liked. She does great characters. I particularly liked her use of marginalized peoples, it make me want to go back and read Jane Austen and see who might have been queer. I just started Ha’Penny yesterday, the opening scenes are good.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *