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Trivialising, over-simplified and anachronistic
on 26 September 2014
My, this is a wasted opportunity. Inverting the conventional masculinised view of Nazi Germany, this focuses on the wives and girlfriends of the elite inner circle, and their infiltration by half-English, half-German Clara. The problem is, very little happens for most of the book as the narrative stalls on endless back-stories, lush descriptions of interiors, exactly what everyone is wearing, the make-up they carry around and so on - almost a parody of the sex-`n'-shopping novel.
More pertinently, this takes an extremely simplistic view of German fascism, one completely controlled, in anachronistic fashion, by our view rather than that of 1933: so Clara hates the Nazis, gets shivers when she's close to them, feels the hairs rise on the back of her neck etc... when almost all the other women in the book (and let's not forget the real-life Mitford sisters, for example) dote on them, especially Hitler. This is, after all, a time when Churchill and his wife were socialising with fascist leaders, when plenty of Britons approved of Hitler's ideas, when even the British embassy characters in the book admit they don't know what the Nazi thinking is which is precisely why they want Clara to get friendly with the wives in the first place - but she is like one of us, pushed back in time but with the benefit of historical hindsight - a failure of imagination on the part of the author.
I loved Thynne's Patrimony for its subtle and complex approach towards WW1 and the concept of heroism. This book couldn't be more different as it oversimplifies and paints everyone in black or white colours. Portraying the Nazi elite as a group of ruthless and one-dimensional thugs flattens the true horror of fascism which is precisely that many of the party elite were extremely well-educated, vastly intelligent and cultured men - and, yet, still did what they did. By demonising them as merely straightforward and undemanding bullies and brutes, I found this book both disrespectful (though I'm sure unintentionally) and distasteful.
There's a really good idea at the heart of this book about the Nazi back-to-the-home (`kinder, küche, kirche') view of women and how the party wives responded, but the treatment here just feels trivialising and anachronistic.