bunn (bunn) wrote,

Farthing by Jo Walton: a ramble

This book came with a recommendation by Ursula Le Guin on the cover  "If Le Carré scares you, read Jo Walton"  it said.    So, here is a quote from one of my very favouritist authors, referencing one of my other very favouritist authors?  Ooo!

It starts out as very much a Dorothy Sayers type country house mystery, full of charm and interesting layers and dubious characters.  Awesome, another favorite author, and done pretty well!   And echoes of JIM Stewart too.    And then it twisted and turned and ended up in alternative-history seriously scary Britain Slides into Naziism territory.   Definitely well written and very compelling.

But.  When it came right down to it, I didn't believe it.    I didn't believe in Churchill silenced and overruled in 1941, I didn't believe in taking Rudolph Hess seriously, I don't believe in a British working class that lies down like that to be exploited,  I don't believe in a British educated class that can still remember the First World War that would try it.  I don't believe the British aristocracy was ever that unified, that evil, that separate, or that broken.  Why would they be?  They lost a generation of their young men too.

There's still a huge difference between regretting a won war from safe land never touched by an invader, and regretting a horribly unsuccessful one among the ruins of your homeland.

Maybe I'm lying to myself.  Maybe I'm too optimistic about human nature, and it really was that close.  But I still don't believe it.

I don't think Le Carré, even at his angriest (and that is pretty damn angry), is quite as black as the end of Farthing.  I don't think any of his villains (or heroes) are quite that unredeemed and uncomplicated.

One thing I love about Le Carr
é is that terrible moment when it turns out that Karla the Soviet idealogue loves his daughter and will give up his ideological position to save her, and that Smiley, the self-defined decent man full of doubt realises how far he's fallen by taking ruthless advantage of that.    The real villains in Farthing would never do that.

Le Carr
é writes from a position in the middle of things, somehow.  His position is quintessentially European and... I originally wrote British, but I think actually, in this case, I really do mean English. Like Tolkien, he seems somehow  grounded in the twentieth century with all its nightmares.  His darkness isn't as dark, but for me, it's realer, I think.
Tags: books, history, never 'eard of a keat, things that make you go hmmm
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