An amusing historical novel and piece of alternative history from Taylor (Derby Day, 2012, etc.).
The book is set in England in the years leading up to World War II: Here, Wallis Simpson, the American woman Edward VIII abdicated the throne to marry, dies in December 1936. Edward remains king and participates in a conspiracy of British Fascists. Several real people have prominent roles in the novel, and their fates are not unlike what happened in real life. The plot is a plot, a conspiracy. Members of Parliament and lowly factotums in faux antiques shops all play a role, passing messages, delivering mysterious packages. Our protagonist is the plucky Cynthia Kirkpatrick, a young, fey colonial returned from Ceylon. She moves in the social circles of those who make history, but she’s on the periphery. Back in London, Cynthia works for a new literary magazine called Duration. Here, she meets the mysterious Anthea Carey, the knowing and active opposite of Cynthia’s naïve observer. Cynthia is drawn into Anthea’s orbit and, finally, in a thriller-ish denouement, into action. A couple of dozen characters are sketched in, along with several daft pro-German organizations. Taylor’s writing overflows with a fine excess. A group of partygoers is “this tatterdemalion horde.” Another looked, “as if the bottle of wine is a prelude to some Barmecidal feast that will suddenly drop from the rafters onto a dozen gleaming golden plates.”
A yummy, multi-course meal.