51qxERaprnLThe lunchtime reading group’s book this month was C.J Sansom’s novel Dominion. All events that take place after 5p.m on 9 May 1940 are imaginary. This is C.J Sansom’s opening gambit in Dominion. British history is re-imagined, no plucky Britain fighting a rear guard action. No Battle of Britain in the skies above the Kent and Sussex coast. No Blitz. The appeasers have triumphed. Churchill, now a hunted fugitive, is carrying out a ‘Hereward the Wake’ style resistance but no one is sure if he is even alive. Surrender after Dunkirk has been the government’s response. The story really begins 12 years later in 1952 (the year of the authors birth) Britain is grey, the only colour seeming to come from the ‘jive boys’ Edwardian coats. David Fitzgerald, a civil servant has been recruited by the resistance movement as a spy. David’s wife Sarah is totally unaware of this as she is of another secret that David has kept hidden from her. He is half Jewish and now Britain’s Jews are being rounded up. When David was at Oxford he made friends with Frank Muncaster. This friendship will many years later, potentially put millions of lives at risk. The group had previously read another of C.J Sansom’s work, Dissolution involving the lawyer Mathew Shardlake and set in and around the court of Henry viii. However this story was a new departure for us as an ‘Alternative’ history. The author we felt has such an acute eye for descriptive detail. He really evoked the grime and dirt of 50’s London. It was mentioned as an aside by one of the group that both Mathew Shardlake and the character of Frank Muncaster have physical deformities’ and we were not sure if this was a deliberate ploy to show Frank as different and outside of what was considered ‘normal’ by people in that era. Everyone felt such sympathy for Frank after his ordeals at a private school in Edinburgh which he is sent to at the instigation of a medium that has great influence over his widowed mother. Though the narrative in the book is quite horrifying most of the group felt it was completely compulsive. The author it was decided had created a ‘cracking’ thriller. Some of the group couldn’t decide if the scene where Frank’s brother Edgar tells him the great secret he is working on in America is the Atomic bomb project was adequate enough to support what eventually happens. However this moved the plot along and it felt like a real race against time as David and fellow resistance workers try to get Frank out of the country before Britain’s real rulers the shadowy puppet masters the Germans in the guise of the SS and Gestapo can get him. Enjoyed immensely was the use of the great smog of the period to hide the fugitives as they battle to get to the coast and the submarine to freedom. We liked that the writer has made his character’s neither all good nor all bad. All have flaws yet good points too. Even the Gestapo officer Hoth tracking them down, though seemingly jaded by years of hunting Jews in Germany can still exhibit traces of kindness. We all loathed the special branch officer Syme who is the most odious and repellent of characters who happily serves his German masters but has no idea his own life is hanging by a thread if he steps out of line. By no means an entirely perfect book one of the major criticisms being perhaps it was too long at over 500 pages and at times a tad over descriptive (although once the group got into the story it become a real page turner). This was a story where all the inhabitants seemed to be working to their own agendas. Allies on both sides battle each other for over all supremacy. Friendship, love and loyalty are all called into question in this bleak but ultimately mesmerising book. An insight into a very different Orwellian Britain. Thankfully it’s only a what if….?
Borrow Dominion
The lunchtime reading group will be meeting on the 20th March to discuss: The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion.