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Widowland by C J Carey

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Widowland by C.J Carey
UK Publication: June 2021
Reviewed by: Book Worm
Rating: [★★★]

This ARC was provided by Quercus (via NetGalley) in exchange for an honest review.

Alternate history that feels eerily like today’s society….

Synopsis from Goodreads: An alternative history with a strong feminist twist, perfect for fans of Robert Harris’ Fatherland, C. J. Sansom’s Dominion and the dystopian novels of Margaret Atwood

To control the past, they edited history. To control the future, they edited literature.

London, 1953, Coronation year – but not the Coronation of Elizabeth II.

Thirteen years have passed since a Grand Alliance between Great Britain and Germany was formalized. George VI and his family have been murdered and Edward VIII rules as King. Yet, in practice, all power is vested in Alfred Rosenberg, Britain’s Protector. Britain is the perfect petri dish for the ideal society, and the role and status of women is Roseberg’s particular interest. Under the Rosenberg regulations women are divided into a number of castes according to age, heritage, reproductive status and physical characteristics.

Rose belongs to the elite caste of Gelis. She works at the Ministry of Culture rewriting literature to correct the views of the past. She has been charged with making Jane Eyre more submissive, Elizabeth Bennet less feisty and Dorothea Brooke less intelligent. One morning she is summoned to the Cultural Commissioner’s office and given a special task.

Outbreaks of insurgency have been seen across the country. Graffiti has been daubed on public buildings. Disturbingly, the graffiti is made up of lines from famous works, subversive lines from the voices of women. Suspicion has fallen on Widowland, the run down slums inhabited by childless women over fifty, the lowest caste. These women are known to be mutinous, for they seem to have lost their fear. Before the Leader arrives for the Coronation ceremony, Rose must infiltrate Widowland and find the source of this rebellion.

But as she begins to investigate, she discovers something that could change the protectorate forever, and in the process change herself.

My Thoughts: Firstly I have to say that some of the techniques used by the oppressive regimes in this story feel unsettling familiar given what is happening in today’s society. Allow me to use some quotes to illustrate this:

“I realized that society was moving away from literacy and entering a slogan world. There were slogans everywhere.”

“People liked the idea of a strong leader – they didn’t much care what that leader stood for. What citizens wanted above all things was a quiet life. They didn’t mind shrinking their horizons. They didn’t object to not travelling, as long as nobody else was travelling either. They wanted an orderly life with everyone knowing their place. Plenty of rules, the more of them the better.”

“Besides, most people don’t actually want to read. They’d rather listen to the wireless or go to the movies. Once this new television gets off the ground, reading will wither away in a generation, you’ll see. People will fall out of the habit and once that happens, the mere act of reading will be harder.”

Also strangely familiar to today’s society those in charge were able to break the rules they had imposed on the general public with little fear of retribution or “justice”.

The main stream media is only allowed to report on news sanctioned by the government leading to a society that has no balance of opinion and that blindly believes what they are told because there is no information provided that  questions it.

I loved the idea of a department to make changes to classical literature to make it fit the message of the regime but in a way that makes the reader believe they are reading the story as it was actually written. I particularly enjoyed the observations about Jane Eyre:

“The text was problematic in all kind of ways. The love story concerned a lower born woman who fell in love with a rich man from higher orders and aspired to marry him. Yet when she finally won his affections, she left him. The narrative was riddle with assertions fo female self-sufficiency. Empowerment, independence, self-awareness. Practically every page required an edit.”

I also loved the way that reading the literature she was editing began to make Rose think and to question why things were as they were. As every oppressive regime knows reading and free thought are dangerous things.

In terms of the main story it was interesting watching how even a woman of the highest class was restricted in what she could do by what a man would allow her to do and how easy it was for a woman to lose her position based on the whims of a man. Rose’s first relationship made total sense to me given the nature of the regime she was living under however the second relationship felt rushed and shoehorned in as if no book about women could be complete without a romance. Given the nature of the society a romance that rushed should never had lead to the level of trust that it did which was jarring for this reader.

Overall I enjoyed this book, it made me think and reminded me that we are not as far removed from the past as we would like to believe. Be warned though the ending totally leaves itself open for a sequel.

Who would like this? I would recommend this to anyone who enjoys alternate history or dystopian fiction.

We want to hear from you! Have you read this book? What did you think? 

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