Half a Crown – Jo Walton – John Keating, Terry Donnelly

It’s 1960, and fascism has settled comfortably over England – and much of the world, apparently – like a pea–souper. And – being a completist at times – I listened to this third book despite not being thrilled with the second one. Looking at my notes, I see a lot of capital letters. Not good. In fact, I hated this book with a passion that still simmers a little.

Oh, this is not a good narration … Terry Donnelly gives a very deliberate, measured, extraordinarily prissy performance for the Elvira portions of the book. I was so hoping there would be a brush of the Cockney now and then, but instead she sounds a very young teenager trying to be Maggie Smith. It’s excruciating. (I’ve listened to samples of other books she’s read – and they’re fine. Lots of Irish–accented books, a couple of American, a couple of English, all listen–to–able. This…) The upper class is painful – the lower class is … *shudder* I also made note of one part in which someone is supposed to be shouting “Police!”, which ought to have been an urgent, probably harsh call, as it was some members of a rioting crowd warning others. Instead, it was a languid, drawled sort of a word, more like Bertie Wooster hailing a cab, and in fact not deserving of the exclamation point. Nearly all audiobooks have moments where the narrator’s intonation does not match the tone of the narrative – things like “Is he ever!” being read as “Is he ever?” But there seem to be more in this book, and some that were less understandable and … just odd. “Ogilvie realized this too”, which should have had “Ogilvie” emphasized, came out as “Ogilvie realized this too”.

Those Elvira portions of the book were altogether unpleasant. Even aside from the narration, I hated the character so much that she is largely responsible for my hatred of the book. Her mother left when she was six, and her father died when she was eight. Know how I know? BECAUSE I WAS TOLD SO, SEVERAL TIMES. In fact, if I wasn’t told so in every Elvira chapter for the first two hours, it certainly felt like it. So that was exasperating. Then there was the simple fact that the girl herself was a nasty, ungrateful little wretch, and apparently completely self-centered. Her attitude toward Carmichael (and Jack), who took her in out of the goodness of his heart (and guilt) after her father was shot, was appalling. The fact that even though she lived with them in a less-than-palatial flat she had no idea the two of them were lovers was, I feel, more due to her egocentricity than the façade of clandestineness on the men’s part. “Could they have any lives outside this room, the only place he ever saw them?” It was kind of hilarious when someone asked her, “You haven’t observed anything that made you suspicious?” No, she hasn’t, because she’s an idiot eighteen-year-old girl. The Cinderella nonsense surrounding her wore thin very fast; at one point she complains about having to wear a polyester dress, in circumstances that rendered the whining offensively silly. Oh, good, I took down one quote regarding a coat, given her to cover the paper prison dress: “It was much too big in the shoulders, of course, and I’d never normally wear a beige coat, but the height was just right to be fashionable.” My God.

The treatment she receives at the hands of the authorities loses any power to trouble me, because it simply isn’t realistic that even a militant fascist state would suspect this bubbleheaded irritant of a girl of terrorism.

Carmichael was all right, I suppose; at least, I don’t have any notes expressing hatred for him. Except for one note after he forgot to ask her about something vital (“Whatever else it was [Elvira] might have known, which he’d forgotten to ask her about” – OH MY GOD YOU MORON). But his lover/valet Jack was a paradox. Far be it from me to disbelief an autodidact – but I did. He came off as not very bright, but there were carefully added details about his extensive studies or whatever that made little sense. And he was used in one of the tropes which annoys me the most: I’m always disgusted by fictional spouses of cops (and doctors and other professionals who have wildly erratic hours) who become petulant over those erratic hours. Look – for the most part you knew what you were getting into; it’s not the spouse’s fault; shut up. In real life I’m sure it’s extraordinarily difficult, and I sympathize. In fiction, it’s intensely boring.

The alternate universe – in which AXIS won WWII – was not badly done; there’s talk of airships instead of airplanes, and “Britain and Japan should divide America between them” (Oy. You try it, mate.) However, shouldn’t Edward VIII have been a little higher up or something, cozy as he and Mrs. Simpson were with the Reich? And, as with the preceding books, there simply wasn’t enough attention given to the differences between this world and that. It would at least have been a distraction from despising Elvira if I’d been kept off-kilter by the alien reality of a fascist, Hitler-led England. (My fingers ache just typing that.)

However.

Attention all British authors, past, present, and future, who try their hand at American characters: We do NOT all sound like Foghorn bleeding Leghorn. (I’m looking at you too, Conan Doyle.) We do NOT say “mighty” in every other sentence, and it’s astonishingly irritating – and offensive – in a character whose American accent and dialect was formed at Princeton. Which is in New Jersey. Which is not a place you would hear “The countryside is mighty pretty…and London sure is entertaining.” I was born and raised in Connecticut. I have never in my life heard anyone who was not pretending to be a cowboy say “mighty”. And then there was “In his American accent”. So… in almost 94 thousand square miles, the UK has more accents than I can count, but in America’s THREE POINT EIGHT MILLION square miles we supposedly have … one? Get a clue. Now.

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