Jo Walton’s new alternate history novel Farthing manages the incredible, heart-rending trick of being a quiet little story about quiet, brave people while simultaneously conjuring the kind of haunting dystopia that rips your guts out.
Farthing is clearly a parable about Britain and America in the wake of the 9/11 and 7/7 attacks, when commonsense, humanism, and a commitment to liberty and justice has been easily set aside in a fury of bloodlust and a dismal, shrugging apathy. Walton’s deft touch is like Orwell’s, tender but unflinching, and it’s easy to see why she won the Campbell Award and the World Fantasy Award.
I have a huge backlog of books that I just don’t have time to review. To take the lazy way out, I’ll try to find reviews that I agree with and highlight them.
This is one example. I loved Jo Walton’s Farthing — a successor of sorts to 1984, transplanted to our modern paranoias. The murder mystery in this book (and similar mysteries in its two outstanding successors, Ha’penny and Half a Crown) is really peripheral to the book’s main achievement, which is the chilling depiction of comfortable accommodation to fascism. Better than any other recent book I’ve read, Farthing shows how easily prejudices insinuate themselves into polite society, leading otherwise ordinary people to support the most shocking atrocities — and a brave few to resist.