OCCASIONALLY, A WRITER CAN TELL YOU exactly how a book began life. In the case of CJ Carey (a pseudonym), she’d gone out for lunch with a friend, who had offered condolences over the 2018 death of her husband, the novelist Philip Kerr. But there was a kicker. “And then he said, ‘Look, we’d really love to have you to dinner, but the trouble is we only have couples to dinner’.”
After lunch, a thought occurred to Carey: “Oh God, I’m living in widow land now.” A novelist’s question followed: “What if widow land was a place?”. Back home and “stunned” by the idea that “you suddenly exiled people because they’d had the misfortune to lose their partner”, she set to work.
The result was Widowland, an alternate history novel set in London in 1953. This is a coronation year not for Elizabeth II but, in a country under Nazi control, for Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson. As the book’s plot builds towards an assassination attempt (Carey says she was “remembering The Day Of The Jackal” as she wrote) it’s a book that functions in large part as a thriller. But it’s also a novel about a totalitarianism rooted in detailed planning, censorship and the role of women within Nazi society.
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