Weldon (Worst Fears) returns in fine, sharp form in this mischievous dystopian tale. By 2013, capitalism has collapsed in Europe, and England has turned to protectionist policies, communal farms, and an intrusive National Unity Government that feeds its citizens National Meat Loaf and monitors people by street-corner CiviCams. In this bleak near-future, Frances Prideaux, once a successful writer of feminist novels and a proud product of the era of sexual liberation, is rehashing the sins of her past. As bailiffs try to repossess her house, Frances tells the story of her life--how she married her sister's boyfriend; rejected her stepson Henry, the revolution's creepily austere leader; and squandered her fortune and influence--and tries to keep tabs on her grandson, Amos, who is busy plotting against the government with his cohorts from Redpeace. This marvelously sardonic work shows a future that is all too close to reality, where family resentments and grim history are inextricable. (Oct.)
Weldon (The Life and Loves of a She-Devil) invents a life in an easily imagined near future for her younger sister who did not survive birth—her story here closely resembles Weldon's own. At 80, once-popular novelist Frances Prideaux is trapped on the main floor of her London house with failing knees, while her nephew and nieces plot revolution on her upper floors through their participation in Redpeace, a splinter group of Greenpeace. Looking back over her own history, Frances name-drops her famous literary friends, remembers past lovers, and grapples with whom she can trust in the new world order. This is an England of scarcity—food, water, and power shortages necessitate a Big Brother-style National Unity Government (NUG) to monitor the use of precious resources through tightly regulated water rationing, communal gardens, and the widespread distribution of a NUG-sanctioned meatloaf. VERDICT What Margaret Atwood did for the future of reproduction, Weldon plausibly does here for food production. A rollicking story that may inspire readers to greener habits before the apocalypse.—Barbara Love, Kingston Frontenac P.L., Ont.
For her 29th novel, a long-celebrated British-based writer delivers a combined fictional memoir and prescient alternative history.
Herself a writer nearing her 80s, Weldon (The Stepmother's Diary, 2008, etc.) here introduces an 80-plus-year-old alter-ego sister who never existed, reviewing life from the perspective of post–financial-meltdown London, now ruled by a National Unity Government presiding over power cuts, water shortages and the National Meat Loaf, rumored to contain human protein. Frances Prideaux is a writer too, more successful than her sister Fay, whose career—in advertising, then writing lucrative, "allegedly feminist" books about women—echoes Weldon's own. Chalcot Crescent, the street where Frances has lived for half a century, represents both the high point of her existence, when she was happily married, successful and well connected, and now the low, with the bailiffs battering at her door. The bulk of the novel is a chronicle of the years in between and Prideaux's extended family, blended with Weldon's reliably acerbic social/political/gender critique. Later in the narrative, more space is devoted to a plot concerning Frances's relatives, terrorism and moves toward totalitarianism, but what's memorable is the author's mischievous, sinister/comic tone and deft, multilayered levels of fictionalization.
Impressive work from a seasoned cynic. As usual, Weldon's unique voice is the draw.
Tom De Haven
Despite a surfeit of the genre's requisite trappings (food rationing, secret police, universal surveillance, dopey government acronyms), Chalcot Crescent might be the least depressingcertainly it's the most cheerfuldystopian fiction I've ever come across, thanks to Weldon's slashing wit and her refusal to suffer fools gladly, no matter how despotic…And that’s just fine, because it's in Frances' satirical mini-rants, aphorisms and meandering recollections, not in the novel's apocalyptic litanies…that Chalcot Crescent comes alive, allowing Weldon to direct her famous she-devil snark at whatever targets strike her fancy: sex, marriage, children, careers, jealousy, aging.
The New York Times