I’ve just finished reading CJ Sansom’s alternate history novel Dominion set in a 1950s Britain that is effectively under Nazi rule. The novel imagines a parallel universe where Lord Halifax became British Prime Minister in 1940 instead of Winston Churchill. It’s a similar premise to the book Fatherland by Robert Harris but stemming from a different, and earlier, point in history. The great thing about such books is the range of possibilities and how they reflect the views and background of individual authors — in this case, what comes across is Sansom’s dislike of nationalism.
Photo by Leonard Bentley
The book is set twelve years after Churchill lost to the appeasers and Britain negotiated a peace treaty with Nazi Germany after Dunkirk. As the German war against Russia continues in the east, the British people are under the authoritarian rule of a government that is subservient to Berlin. The resistance, led by Churchill and Attlee, are increasingly active and have spies in the civil service. A scientist imprisoned in a mental hospital may hold a secret that could change the balance of power for ever.
What made this book stand out for me was the attention to detail and the evident research that must have been needed to get the period details right. The end result is that he brings all the separate threads within the story together convincingly and the alternate 1950s feels all too plausible for comfort. Sometimes the attention to detail works well (such as Lyons Corner Houses becoming British Corner Houses) but at times early in the book are a little too jarring and interrupt the narrative. I imagine it’s a difficult balance to get right but overall it works well. In my view it is undoubtably a story that would work well as a film or television drama.
Although not part of the novel, I also enjoyed the chapter of historical notes and the author’s rant against the current nationalism of the SNP in Scotland. His bias against the SNP does come across throughout the book but his views on the way independence is being promoted at the moment are quite similar to my own.
Sansom’s portrayal of the politician Enoch Powell is particularly unflattering, portraying him as the most pro-Nazi of the imagined British government. Perhaps because he is one of the few characters in the book we may still remember, this seems to have caused some controversy. It’s worth highlighting that in the ‘real world’ he did enlist in the army as early as October 1939, before the events set out in this book.
I always like to include a appropriate photograph in each post if I can. When I can’t find one of mine that’s suitable I generally use a CC licensed image from Flickr. The photo by Leonard Bentley I’ve used here is perfectly suited to this book and I’m grateful to anyone who makes their work available in this way.