Widowland by C.J.Carey – a review by Jeanette Greaves

Image of the front cover of the book

Widowland is a alternate history thriller set in a dreary 1950s South East England. The story unfolds in dull monochrome, the only splashes of colour come from red Nazi flags, yellow flowers of resistance, and a vintage blue dress that makes its appearance at the end of the book.
The baseline for this alternate history is that the UK caved in to Germany in 1940, signing a treaty that gave the fascists complete control of the country. A Stasi style system of mutual surveillance has led to a society without trust. The Imperial state controls the media and the message, and has teams of natives literally rewriting history.
One of the pet projects of the regime has been the implementation of a caste system for women, based on looks, fertility, intelligence and obedience. Our heroine, Rose, has been placed in the highest rank, the Gelis, with access to better nutrition and housing than the lower ranks. Rose has a job … rewriting beloved and popular novels to censor anything that presents intelligence, defiance or rebellion in girls and women as a good thing. She’s been given the job because she’s trusted, but then again, she’s being exposed to a lot of interesting characters and ideas. How can you meet Jo March, Jane Eyre and Dorothea Brooke and escape unchanged?
In contrast. the very lowest rank is the Friedas, unmarried childless women who are past childbearing age. They have been stripped of their homes and possessions and forced to live in slum housing on the edges of towns. These areas are the Widowlands of the title. And they’re breeding grounds for insurrection.
The story focuses mostly on Rose’s socialite life in London, I would have liked to see a lot more about the older women in the Widowlands, but their world is left mostly to our imagination. This is perhaps a lost opportunity. Widowland borrows heavily from The Handmaid’s Tale regarding the caste system, even going as far as to use popular women’s names to label the castes, but Atwood told the story from the point of view of the downtrodden, and meted out the background in tiny doses. Widowland is drawn with thicker lines, and there is plenty of exposition to let us know exactly what our heroine is dealing with.
Widowland is an alternate history thriller that speaks as much to 2020s Britain as it does to the 1950s. It’s a great read, and recommended to fans of the thriller genre.

Thank you to Quercus Books for the review copy.

ON SALE: 10th June 2021

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