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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.