Finish with a flourish

DominionPhil: Meeting up for lunch a couple of weeks ago, I was sat outside the pub reading in the sunshine. When Candice arrived, after she’d taken the mickey out of my hat, commented that she’d read the same book and written it up on the blog.

’tis true. I half remembered this. In the back of my mind it’s why I bought the book. Well, that and it was for sale in a pound shop.

The book is Dominion by CJ Sansom. A thriller set in an alternate history where Britain didn’t fight very much of the second world war, instead coming to an arrangement with Germany that sees us living in a sort of hybrid British/Nazi world.

(Warning: Spoilers follow)

Plot: Frank Muncaster, a geologist, learns an important secret from his American physicist brother. The realisation that after a very short conversation he knows how to make an atomic bomb terrifies him and the book revolves around the resistance’s efforts to get him out of the country while the Germans try to capture him.

That’s nearly 800 pages distilled down for you, so here are the good and bad points:

Good

  • The book comes fitted with a ribbon to use as a bookmark. Yes, I know it’s daft, but I really liked this.
  • The atmosphere of a 1950s Britain is well done. Basically, it’s very similar to the world as it happened but with more televisions.
  • At the back there is a history section explaining how the author developed the world the story takes place in, extrapolating from history. History experts have pulled this to bits but much of it seems pretty plausible to me.
  • The Nazis are a little comic book but the idea that they would try to appear to work within the system doesn’t seem so far-fetched. This isn’t an invasion proper so there aren’t storm troopers in the streets.

Bad

  • The plot is daft. Muncaster is a geologist and yet learns enough from his brother before pushing him out of a window to be useful in developing an atomic bomb. Seriously? The Manhattan project was a massive undertaking with vast numbers of scientists working on it. If you were high enough up the chain to understand all the technical stuff you’d never be let out of the country on your own to visit an enemy state. Even then, the chances of explaining things to someone with no training in the field are slim even if you had plenty of time.
  • At the end of the fascinating history, there is a four page rant about the Scottish Referendum. Even if I cared what the author thought of this (I don’t) then a hardback book is not the place for it. With the benefit of hindsight, whoever left that bit in looks a bit silly now.
  • Once the “secret” is obvious, the ending falls a bit flat. If there’s one thing I learned from it, it’s that a book really needs a good, big, ending. I’m very glad we didn’t edit away any of ours.

This might sound like I didn’t enjoy the read but I did. The atmosphere carries you along and in the peasouper fog you don’t notice the holes.

However on reflection there is a problem in that almost nothing that happens on the page matters. In the background, the most important story is Hitler’s death and what will happen to the regime when he goes. Nothing anyone does really makes a difference and that leaves this reader feeling a bit empty. There’s a nice epilogue to tie up all the loose ends but after nearly 800 pages I’d like to feel more satisfied.

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3 Comments

Filed under Books, Phil, Writing

3 responses to “Finish with a flourish

  1. Haven’t read the book but like alternate histories. On of the best – the Man in the High Castle by Philip K dick written in 1962 – is being made into a TV series by Amazon. The story: It’s America in 1962. Slavery is legal once again. The few Jews who still survive hide under assumed names. In San Francisco, the I Ching is as common as the Yellow Pages. All because some twenty years earlier the United States lost a war—and is now occupied by Nazi Germany and Japan.

    This harrowing, Hugo Award-winning novel is the work that established Philip K. Dick as an innovator in science fiction while breaking the barrier between science fiction and the serious novel of ideas. In it Dick offers a haunting vision of history as a nightmare from which it may just be possible to wake.

    • The alternative history bit was (apart from the bookmark) the best part of this. I’ve heard of the Man in the High Castle before – must track a copy down. Must dent the reading pile first of course…

      • On the bedside table reading pile : Birdsong, Sebastian Faulks (tough going about 1st WW); Portugese Irregular Verbs, Alexander McCall Smith (much better than the No.1 Ladies Detective Agency); Mexico Set, Len Deighton (60’s spies); Citizens in Space, Robert Sheckley (50’s SF, when the future was bright); a book on Australian beer brands, the latest Model Railway Journal and last Sunday’s Sunday Times.

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