Chatto & Windus, £16.99 Order at a discount from the The Independent Bookshop
Book review: The Windsor Faction, By DJ Taylor
History and fiction blend in this cunningly mixed cocktail of wartime skullduggery
Friday 27 September 2013
Reading DJ Taylor's new novel was a peculiar experience for me. By an unnerving coincidence, he turns out to have constructed his plot around some of the historical events and personalities at the heart of a non-fiction book on which I've been working.
Get this book at the discounted price of £11.99 from The Independent Bookshop or call 0843 0600 030
Those events reached their climax during the early stages of the Second World War when a secretive group of British fascists led by Captain Archibald Ramsay reached a potentially history-changing accommodation with Tyler Kent, a debonair, womanising employee of the US Embassy in London, who was stealing vast quantities of confidential documents.
Such is this saga's intrinsic drama and seductively noir-ish quality that it has already provided the narrative motor for another recent novel: Laura Wilson's deservedly popular Stratton's War. I opened both of these novels with a sense of trepidation, swiftly banished by the pungent authenticity of their opening chapters.
Until one has read a few pages of The Windsor Faction, Taylor's choice of title seems merely a matter-of-fact allusion to the House of Windsor and, more specifically, to King Edward VIII and his political allies. Embedded within it, however, is a sly pun that signposts the novel's playful tone and its status as a modish blend of fact and fiction.
Like Dominion, CJ Sansom's latest bestseller, The Windsor Faction re-imagines the war's initial phase, particularly the now little-known British fascist campaign to make peace with the Nazis. While Dominion portrays the grim aftermath of such an arrangement, this novel concentrates on the illicit manoeuvrings of campaigners striving to secure a treaty.
In Taylor's alternative history, the king's mistress, Wallis Simpson, dies in a car crash, her death averting the abdication. The monarch is then courted by a group of fascist peace campaigners using the real-life writer, Beverley Nichols, as their amusingly louche intermediary. Through pastiche journals, which showcase Taylor's facility as a pitch-perfect mimic of mid-century idiom, The Windsor Faction follows Nichols's efforts to persuade the King to make a broadcast opposing the war.
Intercut with these stylish entries is the tale of a fictitious upper-middle-class girl named Cynthia Kirkpatrick, who lives within the orbit of the conspirators. When she swaps colonial India for the blacked-out streets and dingy rented rooms of wartime London, she finds herself embroiled in a half-hearted romance with Tyler Kent. Before long, she's approached by MI5, who want her to work for them.
From this rich material, only loosely connected to the real-life adventures of Kent and friends, Taylor has crafted a compulsively enjoyable novel, veined with breezy charm. Drawing on the work of Orwell, MacLaren-Ross and other literary masters of that nicotine-stained era, he gives us a persuasive vision of London during the Phoney War, and Britain at that pivotal moment when the course of history could have been so different.
Paul Willetts's 'Rendezvous at the Russian Tea Rooms' will be published by Penguin next year
After giving gay film R-rating despite no sex or violencefilm
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 'Alien thigh bone' on Mars: Excitement from alien hunters at 'evidence' of extraterrestrial life
- 2 Mother fed her daughter tapeworms to make her skinny for pageant
- 3 Crystal Palace next manager latest: Palace consider Ally McCoist - EXCLUSIVE
- 4 Richard Dawkins on babies with Down Syndrome: 'Abort it and try again – it would be immoral to bring it into the world'
- 5 ALS ice bucket challenge co-founder Corey Griffin drowns, aged 27
Jeremy Clarkson 'sees no problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC
Lucy, film review: Scarlett Johansson will blow your mind in Luc Besson's complex thriller
Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw
Miley Cyrus concert banned on morality grounds in the Dominican Republic
Coolio has sold his soul to Pornhub
Richard Dawkins on babies with Down Syndrome: 'Abort it and try again – it would be immoral to bring it into the world'
Scottish independence: English people overwhelmingly want Scotland to stay in the UK
Isis threat: Cameron wants an alliance with Iran
Michael Brown shooting: Chaos erupts on the streets of Ferguson after autopsy shows teenager was shot six times – twice in the head
Disgusting, frustrating, but intriguing: how the country really feels about its politicians
Bin bag full of cats' heads discovered near Manchester's Curry Mile