Britain, 1953, and the whole country is gearing up for a royal coronation. But it’s not the one you think it will be, in this alternative reality drama. Oh, and you ought to know too that Britain is a protectorate, stuck on the edge of a Nazi Europe, and is actually waiting for Hitler to turn up to the ceremony. Our heroine, Rose, is one of the workers in the culture (for which read propaganda) ministries in London, and is employed to re-edit classical literature to make the books we all recognise more suitable for the Nazi philosophy. For they certainly have a rarefied philosophy when it comes to women, having split them into half a dozen castes. The only way for a woman to get a high status is through luck of birth, and through luck of birthing – large families are encouraged, and the childless and widows are stuck in starving penury.
This world the females live in is expertly conveyed here, by an author hiding behind a sexless pen name until the book is ready to hit the charts. The obvious comparison then is with the works of Margaret Attwood, and while this is definitely intending to be more of a page-turner than a highly literate effort, the difference between the two is small. But the book is not just concerned with how women are repressed. Literacy amongst females is frowned on, ideas that allow women to think above their station more so, and book lovers reading this will find it almost a game to see how classics they read at school would not fit in with Nazi ideology. To them, Rochester was doing perfectly the right thing – hiding an embarrassing secret away in the attic, employing females to nurse her, and still seeking another way for him to sow his seed for the master race.
This was a most pleasurable read, if, to repeat, a light one. Before I knew this was by someone famous writing as C J Carey I thought it might well be a commendable debut novel, for it both seems to aim at the airport terminal market and still be too woolly and at times short on incident. Frequently I was aware that while I was eager for more of the story it could have done with being almost any percentage shorter.
But the biggest sin for me was a separate aspect of the plot, when Rose is ordered under threat to moonlight as an investigator into possible insurrection. She seems to not be bothered with the threat at all at times, gallivanting about with her boyfriend, visiting a grand total of one house to try and find the dirt she needs. By the time she’s done so little with this side of her story you see her doing little elsewhere, too, and she bounces off the actions of males too often to be a great female character. All that aside, however, the book still entertained, with its laudably imagined world, and of course it engaged all those of us who love books, and who love and/or are a woman.
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Published by Quercus (10 Jun. 2021)
Hardback, ISBN 978-1529411980