D.J. Taylor: The Windsor Faction



This alternate history novel imagines what the world might have been like if Wallis Simpson had died before Edward could renounce his throne for her concentrating mainly on the war yearsIt s a fiercely intelligent book with an excellent point to make and I did enjoy itYou can feel the but coming can t youWell the thing is as well thought out as it is it is lacking somewhat in heart Somebody needs to visit the Wizard of Oz It s incredibly dry and this lack of sparkle reduces what could easily have been a four or five star book to a three I m afraid For me anyway as ever your mileage may vary The premise of this novel is that Wallis Simpson died in an operation and there was no abdication With King Edward VIII seemingly receptive to a peaceful resolution with Germany the environment is set for serious skullduggery among Britain s anti Semites and others looking to advance themselves in the event of a new order I admit that I almost bailed on this one it s bewildering at first without a single major character emerging or a consistent point of view to follow The demise of Mrs Simpson is described through news articles and overheard conversations Then the scene shifts to Ceylon where we meet a bland and passive young woman who ends up having a traumatic experience We are then privy to the diary of Beverley Nichols a ay arden writer and socialite based on a true person Things et much amusing when narrated by Mr Nichols though he also has a role in pushing the plot forward The book appropriately uses plot elements straight out of pre war spy thrillers but on the whole it is a complicated literary novel told from multiple points of view and including numerous characters taken from history such as Captain Archibald Ramsay and Tyler Kent Characters such as Mr Nichols or Desmond the editor of a Bloomsbury literacy magazine seem almost comically self delusional to the extent that at first I wondered if one or was included just to lighten things up but no these characters participate seriously in the novel s unfolding plot One scene a fundraising party for the struggling magazine appears at first broadly drawn and satirical but then events occur that delineate exactly how vulnerable some of the population was in those days This novel is worth sticking with and the pace does uicken I m lad I discovered it at the public library I m an sucker for World War II history and fiction and if it s alternative history then I lose all resistance whatsoever Robert Harris s Fatherland Stephen Fry s Making History Jo Walton s Small Change trilogy Kate Atkinson s Life After Life they re just a few of the books in this sub sub enre I ve enjoyed and I have C J Sansom s Dominion waitingOf course then when I hear about a book that imagines Edward VIII doesn t abdicate and is on the throne during the first year of the war the period known as the Phoney War I m all in You ll remember that Edward VIII like many of his aristocratic pals thought the Nazis were just swell and should be allowed free reign in central Europe It makes for a compelling premise then to imagine the what ifs of Edward VIII still wearing the crownThe Windsor Faction is a roup of right wingers including politicians civil servants journalists and military officers who are certain the Nazis can be dealt with civilly and there is no ood reason to Inverloch Volume 4 go to war over the Slavs and certainly not over the Jews Many of the Faction s members and a distressingly high number of ordinary Britons have bought into the notion that this is a war engineered by Jews for their financial benefitAuthor D J Taylor presents Edward VIII subtly than I expected He isn t written as the empty headed socialite with anti Semite proclivities who is often presented in literature and history He is a World War I veteran and wants to avoid the senseless slaughter of that war He hopes that actively engaging the Germans in peace talks will prevent the Phoney War from heating up into the real thing with the price being at mostiving Germany free reign in countries where there are large ethnic German populations in exchange for their promise to treat non Aryans humanelyTaylor tells the story from several points of view including the King journalist and ay bon vivant Beverley Nichols a shop clerk who passes messages for the Faction an MI 5 agent and Cynthia Kirkpatrick a young woman just returned to England from. If Wallis Simpson had not died on the operating table in December 1936 Edward VIII would not be King of England three years later He would have abdicated for “the woman he loves” but now the throne is his If Henry Bannister’s car had not careered off the Colombo back

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His life a secret King s speech that will shock England As Hitler s armies encroach further into Europe Cynthia discovers that choosing sides can be very dangerous Taylor oes into the minutia of detailing the daily activities of the main characters so that the reader feels as if he were among the English waiting for war The routine actions contrast with the overwhelming certainty that war will not be avoided Hardcover 368 pagesPublished September 25th 2013 by Pegasus first published S 75 pages in I d rather watch reruns and play Angry Birds Nothing to hold my attention characters seem anemic and not terribly likeable and little information is provided about what are supposedly the surrounding events Too many books and too little time to o on with this one Not what one would expect It s betterThe packaging leads one to expect another alternate history thriller This one based off the premise that Mrs Simpson dies on the operating table and therefore Edward never abdicates What you et is if Anthony Powell devoted one of the volumes of his a dance to the music of time purely to expose the rabid fascist element within the British upper classes Different clever and ood 25 starsBad advertising campaign it s being sold as something alternative history thriller it isn t What it is is literary fictionFor a further review I bought it thinking it was oing to be a thriller and loved what it actually is ie a highly literary depiction of the Phony War Wallis Simpson dies in the prologue and is thereafter barely mentioned Edward VIII remains on the throne a bit problematic The Horse in Celtic Culture given the novel s own timeframe by December 1936 things had progressed to the point where it is doubtful Edward could have stayed even without Mrs Simpson hovering around Fort Belvedere and the novel picks up the story in 1939 as war breaks outAt which point The Windsor Faction turns into a sly examination of the Phony War the period between October 1939 and the Western offensive of MayJune 1940 Taylor takes us into several scenarios some of which deal with the appeasement faction that continued in operation right up until the invasion of France They make attempts to involve the King who does wind upiving a hesitant endorsement of a negotiated peace Whereupon he is packed off by his overnment to visit hospitals and military bases in the north of England At the end of the book Edward manages to write a self pitying note of thanks to Beverly Nichols his contact with the appeasement party is far too strong a description Sympathizers Taylor is perfectly aware that George VI and Elizabeth Bowes Lyon belonged to this roup in real life both liked Chamberlain and were deeply suspicious of Churchill at the start of the war and his point is simple it really didn t matter which Windsor s royal duff was parked on the throne the entire war was far too serious for the opinions of the Royal Family to matter If there is a heroine it is Cynthia a colonial s daughter who returns to England with her parents just as the war begins She Every Boys Dream goes to work for Duration a homage to the literary magazine Waugh planned to found that was supposed to last for the length of the war Cyril Connolly beat him to it with Horizon The magazine office is peopled by a collection of characters that would do a Waugh novel proud and largely through them weet an effective look at the tedium and excitement of the first seven months of World War IIAgain not a thriller although it has superficial elements of one A major character is kidnapped There is a meeting with German intelligence on an Irish beach Neither event oes much of anywhere When the Germans invade France the novel comes to a uick end almost as though the characters are alvanized at lastThe writing is of a high order Taylor has been shortlisted for the Booker and it is easy to see whyThis may not be everyone s cup of tea but I would ive it a chance if the period is interesting to you Not Wallis and Edward mind you To be honest I wasn t impressed with this book The title was misleading the plot was odd the narrative was disjointed and I am still not sure how the individual stories fit together Not really a book I would ever recommend to any type of reader Poor execution of an interesting premise The central character was just unbelievable and the dialogue was weak A wallbanger as in toss it against the wall and wonder why I bothere. Ng at the highest levels of society and determined to derail the war effort against Nazi Germany  The Windsor Faction is an ingenious exercise in what might have been that assembles a cast of real and imaginary characters in a horrifyingly plausible re invention of history.

Several years living with her family in what was then the British colony of Ceylon We follow Cynthia s reintroduction to London life employment at a literary magazine and acuaintance with characters who take different positions on the war She is ambivalent but she will be forced to choose and this is what ives the story its thriller plotAs with most historical novels The Windsor Faction includes a mix of real and imagined characters Here though Taylor takes the daring step of placing several real figures in the Faction Captain Ramsay is based on Archibald Ramsay the MP who led the Right Club a Fascist organization on which the Faction is based Beverley Nichols was a real life journalist social The Multi-Orgasmic Man gadfly and pacifist who in The Windsor Faction is represented by fictional journal entries detailing his helping the King insert peace propaganda into the monarch s traditional Christmas Day broadcast along with asides about No l Coward and allusions to Nichols s assignations with young men who make a habit of lifting his belongings Tyler Kent was an American cipher clerk at the American Embassy who in this novel is part of the Faction and regularly conspiring with Captain RamsayWhile I found the novel s ideas compelling and its depiction of London during the Phoney War evocative there are some weak points in the execution The most significant is the Cynthia character She s so ineffectual that I wanted toive her a kick in the pants She has the puzzling habit of sleeping with men she doesn t like apparently just because they want her to I didn t expect her to turn into some kind of superhero in the thriller plot but she was so passive most of the time that it was frustrating While someone in her position was a ood choice of protagonist her weak willed character was hard to respect or identify withThe writing style is a bit uneven as well There is some beautiful and imaginative writing but then there are some real clunkers and oddities like comparing things to ravy of all things so often throughout the book that it was distracting The book is also very talky for about two thirds its length when it suddenly turns into a thriller one that strains credulity at timesThe book is also likely to present some challenges to American readers unless they have a depth of knowledge not only of the wartime history of England and its political figures but also of cultural personalities Most history buffs will know about Edward VIII Churchill Lord Halifax and a number of other less prominent characters in the story But I doubt many Americans will have any idea who Archibald Ramsay Beverley Nichols and Tyler Kent were and they are major characters While I don t think that is a huge problem it makes for a layer of meaning and nuance that will be missingWith these caveats I would recommend The Windsor Faction to readers with a strong interest in World War II alternate history novels Despite its faults Taylor s evocation of London s atmosphere and the depiction of its citizens during the Phoney War is compellingNote I received a free review copy of this book If Wallis Simpson had not died on the operating table in December 1936 Edward VIII would not be King of England three years later He would have abdicated for the woman he loves but now the throne is his If Henry Bannister s car had not careered off the Colombo back roads in the summer before the war Cynthia Kirkpatrick would never have found out about The FactionIt is autumn 1939 and everything in history is just as it was Except that is for the identity of the king in Buckingham Palace and the existence of a secret organization operating at the highest levels of society and determined to derail the war effort against Nazi Germany The Windsor Faction is an ingenious exercise in what might have been that assembles a cast of real and imaginary characters in a horrifyingly plausible re invention of historyOne of the main characters is Cynthia who Kirkpatrick who works for the Duration a newly founded literary magazine She finds herself at the center of a web of intrigue There are parties held in wealthy country houses where uests try to size up each other and decide who is for and against the war A clerk from the American Embassy pilfers presidential telegrams and everyone is under suspicion as M15 widens their net Journalist Beverly Nichols is working on the most important undertaking of. Oads in the summer before the war Cynthia Kirkpatrick would never have found out about The FactionIt is autumn 1939 and everything in history is just as it was Except that is for the identity of the king in Buckingham Palace and the existence of a secret organization operati.

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David John Taylor born 1960 is a critic novelist and biographer After attending school in Norwich he read Modern History at St John's College Oxford and has received the 2003 Whitbread Biography Award for his life of George Orwell He lives in Norwich and contributes to The Daily Telegraph The Guardian The Independent New Statesman and The Spectator among other publicationsHe is married