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. The role and status of women is Rosenberg’s particular interest.
Rose Ransom belongs to the elite caste of women and works at the Ministry of Culture, rewriting literature to correct the views of the past. But now she has been given a special task.
Outbreaks of insurgency have been seen across the country; graffiti daubed on public buildings. Disturbingly, the graffiti is made up of lines from forbidden works, subversive words from the voices of women. Suspicion has fallen on Widowland, the run-down slums where childless women over fifty have been banished. These women are known to be mutinous, for they have nothing to lose.
Before the Leader arrives for the Coronation ceremony of King Edward and Queen Wallis, Rose must infiltrate Widowland to find the source of this rebellion and ensure that it is quashed.
My thoughts: with elements of 1984 and Handmaid’s Tale, this is a dark and sinister dystopia where rather than fight against the Nazis Britain signed an agreement with them and became part of Hitler’s new Europe.
Women are assigned roles based on their looks – the more Aryan the better, and age. Older women with no children are banished to Widowland – deserted suburbs with little or no hope of redemption. But in a land rife with censorship and revisionism, tiny buds of resistance bloom.
Bits of this book chilled me – the idea of going back through literature and history and changing things to suit the government is so sinister and disturbing, I’d definitely be fighting back against that. It’s something that makes me look askance at our current Government and their heavy handed input into education and funding. We need the arts and humanities to remind ourselves who we are, where we come from and what we stand for. In Widowland one of the resistance widows says that the ruling powers are afraid of books and that’s true. Letting people have knowledge is dangerous for dictators and tyrants – knowledge is powerful stuff.
The ending is very clever and leaves the reader to fill in the gaps – what happens next to Rose, to Britain? Will there be a better future than the Leader plans? A thought provoking and timely reminder of how important it is to resist the propaganda and lies of government.
*I was kindly gifted a copy of this book in exchange for taking part in the blog tour but all opinions remain my own.