First off, because once I get into my objections it will seem as if I hated this book (and I did not), I want to say that this is a good book, in many senses of the word. It may even be an important book.
And the last fifty pages pay for everything that drove me nuts about the rest of it. They rock. And the ending rocks.
There's some gorgeous writing here. There are passages of character description that are just stand-out. For example, the description of one character's nervous grooming of her dress being like the nervous licking of a cat. The textbook telling detail. And the book has a fantastic ending (as noted above) and lots of wonderful little touches that don't let the protagonists off the hook for their own willful blindness. (I'm torn about the parallel scenes of Lucy and Carmichael discarding newspapers with unconcern for the plight of Europe. Yes, it makes a point. OTOH, maybe it's a point that could have been made with more diversity. Hmmm. On the other hand, parallelism. [Yes, this is the sort of thing that writers spend endless hours fussing over. You know how I keep saying everything is a tradeoff?])
On the other hand, I had a lot of problems with it, as a reader and as a writer.
1) I knew whodunit by page seventy-five, and then because it was the most unlikable people in the book and they were obviously all lying, I kept trying to convince myself that I was wrong and they were the red herrings. Which I guess is a victory of sorts.
1a.) I was wrong about one of them. See below. (She was, however, the one likable person in my original roster of suspects.)
2) I had a really unbearable time with Lucy as a narrator. And I did not, in the end, believe in her at all as a person.
2a) because at first I admired her strength of character despite finding her the sort of person I would cheerfully smother with a pillow. (I do not do well with Jane Austen heroines either. This is a personal quirk.) But still. What strength of character! What choices and what hard thinking she must have had to do to come to such enlightened attitudes growing up in that society, with that family.
2b) Oh. No, no struggle. She's just a kind of twenty-first-century liberal transplanted into post-war Britain.
2c) Does she have to be so perfectly perfect and even the servants love her, except of course the wicked racist ones? Oh, except she's chubby. Or she thinks she is.
2d) In fairness, I liked the considerably more conflicted and problematic Carmichael much more.
2e) In even more fairness, Lucy does have a sense of humor that is actually funny, and is thus saved from being absolutely unbearable.
2f) Maybe I'm just jealous of her sex life. (Newlyweds. *g* )
2fa) And David is perfectly perfect too, if a little on the naive and trusting side. (I am probably a bit too much like David, politically speaking. Hope is not a contingency plan. We could both stand to get that through our heads.)
2g) Actually, she was so perfectly perfect that I spent about two thirds of the book wondering if she was going to turn out to be a completely unreliable narrator and to have been lying to us all along and be the actual killer herself. That kept me entertained for several chapters. Especially when we got to the scene where she magically knows she's been made pregnant, as if with a Heinleinian spoing. (see below)
ETA: It occurs to me, on further reflection, that my problem is not that there are a lot of gay people in the book. It's that there aren't enough people who are straight, or straight-but-not-vanilla, or queer-and-closeted-and-nobody-knows-it, or queer-and-repressing-it-more-or-less-mis
Okay, fair enough, meant to show the hypocrisy and so forth of the Farthing set. Fair enough. I wonder if it wouldn't have been more effective if a variety of ways had been found to show that hypocrisy.
This troubles me not because I am opposed to queer characters, or queer protagonists, or queer people showing up in books and leading narrative lives that have no more to do with their queerness than the heterosexual people's lives have to do with their straightness, but because at a certain point it becomes farcical. I do not think I was meant to be rolling my eyes every time a new character was revealed to be queer.
3a) And do they all have absolutely perfect gaydar?
3b) Perhaps this is related to the Advanced Pregnancy Warning Sense, above.
4) Hugh was really dumb enough to write that down in letters that would no doubt be read by military censors? *boggle*
5) Carmichael was really dumb enough not to think that his phone calls were being monitored? (Okay, a little less boggle here, but it does seem like convenient character railroading for reasons of plot... and worse, I think, because it wasn't a railroad that wasn't necessary to *move* the plot. The other stuff they had on him was blackmail material enough, I think.)
6) From the files of "Will bother nobody but me," this book is almost entirely devoid of kinesthetic description, and as such left me feeling ungrounded and unconnected.
7) So, after the energy devoted to describing how nothing Mummy does gets done without Sukey, why didn't Lucy suspect that Sukey was obviously the mastermind behind the crime? (I sure did, see above.)
Okay. And now that I've gotten all of that out of my system, I want to say that this is a good and interesting and worthy book, a thoughtful study of the mechanisms by which ordinary, decent people become party to totalitarianism and racism, and the ending isn't nearly as horrible as I expected, from the reviews. (I mean horrible-gutwrenching, not horrible-incompetent.)
I know, from my narrative frustration with the thing, you would expect me to hate it, wouldn't you? And yet, I do not. For one thing, Jo's got a tremendously readable style; the book zips along and pulls the reader with it. For another, while I don't believe in the people at all (this is probably in part due to the lack of physical grounding), the society is beautifully characterized and extremely convincing.
And scary as hell.