I requested to read Widowland via Netgalley, my thanks to the publishers, Quercus, for approving my request. This review forms my honest opinion.
To control the past, they edited history. To control the future, they edited literature.
London, 1953, Coronation year – but not the Coronation of Elizabeth II.
Thirteen years have passed since a Grand Alliance between Great Britain and Germany was formalized. George VI and his family have been murdered and Edward VIII rules as King. Yet, in practice, all power is vested in Alfred Rosenberg, Britain’s Protector. The role and status of women is Rosenberg’s particular interest.
Rose Ransom belongs to the elite caste of women and works at the Ministry of Culture, rewriting literature to correct the views of the past. But now she has been given a special task.
Outbreaks of insurgency have been seen across the country; graffiti daubed on public buildings. Disturbingly, the graffiti is made up of lines from forbidden works, subversive words from the voices of women. Suspicion has fallen on Widowland, the run-down slums where childless women over fifty have been banished. These women are known to be mutinous, for they have nothing to lose.
Before the Leader arrives for the Coronation ceremony of King Edward and Queen Wallis, Rose must infiltrate Widowland to find the source of this rebellion and ensure that it is quashed.
I love reading dystopian fiction, however my appetite for it has been completely wiped out this past year or so. Feeling as if you’re living the opening chapters makes the genre far less of an escape.
That being said, when I read the blurb for Widowland, the old spark was ignited and I found myself diving in enthusiastically.
Widowland is based in an alternate timeline, one where Winston Churchill never became Prime Minister and Britain joined in Alliance with Germany. After the fighting, women outnumber men two to one and their existence is arranged into a caste system, organised by their perceived worth to the oppressive patriarchy. Rose Ransom is an elite woman, a Geli, afforded privilege the other castes can only dream of. Working at the Ministry of Culture, she is exposed to the classics, tasked with rewriting them in line with party ideals. She is then handed a special task – to help locate the resistance who are daubing forbidden lines of literature on public buildings. As part of her investigation she is sent to the Widowland, slums where childless women over the age of 50 reside.
I love alternate histories, especially ones which stem from the Second World War, it really was such a defining moment in time that had the power to alter everything we know today.
Expected with the genre, Widowland is an unsettling read, and I often felt little shivers of recognition in the behaviours of the government in place. The caste system is horrendous. Women (although some are revered but this is only limited to their looks and ability to have children) are seen only in terms of their use. Their caste dictating their rations, where they live and how they live. The picture painted is vivid in its bleakness and I felt that the backstory and narrative around this was some of the best storytelling I’ve seen in terms of world building and clarity.
Equally excellent is the character of Rose, her journey throughout was really well told and I really connected to her as a character. My only complaint would be that perhaps her time in the Widowland wasn’t as impactful as I thought it would be. With so much at stake with the task she was given, I didn’t quite feel her urgency until much later on. That said, latterly, as events coincide and the story picks up speed I literally could not put my Kindle down. My eyes were glued to the screen for the last two hours and I absolutely loved being swept along!
The feminist message throughout was loud and clear, and that the threat to topple everything came from the women cast aside by this new society was cheer-invoking. Although I’m still clinging on to my thirties, I’ve already noticed a shift in how I’m treated, I’ve heard from other women that there is an aura of invisibility that settles on you as get older. And why is this? This book proves the worth of women of any age, quite literally, with echoes of the words of female writers long since passed reverberating throughout.
Widowland is the book that has re-hooked me on the dystopian genre. Strong, feminist and I absolutely loved the ending.