Dominion by CJ Sansom - review

by Nicholas Reid / 10 January, 2013
At least New Zealand comes out well in CJ Sansom’s counter-factual thriller.
Dominion by CJ Sansom
The shelves now groan with counterfactual novels offering alternative outcomes to every major “what if” in history. Two “what ifs” still dominate the field. The South wins the American Civil War and Adolf Hitler wins World War II. CJ Sansom’s Dominion offers a variation on the latter.

In 1940, after Dunkirk, Neville Chamberlain resigns as British Prime Minister. But instead of selecting Winston Churchill as his replacement, the cabinet chooses the appeasing Lord Halifax, who at once capitulates to Hitler. The Nazis don’t invade Britain. Instead, they give Britain self-governing “dominion” status under German supervision. Think a bigger version of Vichy France.

Flash forward to 1952. The impenetrable smog that chokes London symbolises confusion and fear. The natives are getting restless, as Germany’s draining war with Russia has continued for more than a decade. Out in the countryside, there’s a growing resistance movement directed by the octogenarian Churchill.

Sansom has great fun telling us who makes up the collaborationist government: the PM is that opportunistic swine Lord Beaverbrook; his deputy is the Fascist Oswald Mosley; the Minister of Education is Arthur Bryant (historians will chortle knowingly).

To his credit, Sansom avoids the idea of British exceptionalism: in this alternative Britain, there are as many collaborators and thugs coming out of the woodwork as there were in any country that was occupied by the Nazis.

The main plot has a German Gestapo agent hunting down some British resisters with the aid of a collaborating British cop. The Gestapo man is depicted as principled and intelligent, even if serving a monstrous cause; the British cop is a sadistic yob.

The set-up is good and the concept intriguing. But Dominion is 569 pages long and, as a thriller, pedestrian. It winds up with a formulaic situation. Can the Resistance get a Man Who Knows Too Much to a rescuing American submarine before the Gestapo catches up? A final scene of piling-up corpses becomes unintentionally farcical. I kept remembering that my favourite South-wins-the-Civil-War book (Ward Moore’s Bring the Jubilee) comes in at fewer than 200 pages.

Sansom also commits a major blunder by adding a 15-page essay on his sources and inspiration. It ends up as a rant against those in the Scottish Nationalist Party, whom he sees as Fascists in the making.

He does, however, have a positive opinion of this country. Whenever New Zealand is mentioned, it is as the one country in the British Empire that vigorously resists fascism and stands up for independent trade unions.

My own view is New Zealand should live up to this good opinion by rejecting its own degrading “dominion” status and getting its own head of state. Maybe this could be the subject for another counter-factual novel.

DOMINION, by CJ Sansom (Mantle, $34.99).

Nicholas Reid is a writer, poet and historian who blogs about books at Reid’s Reader.
MostReadArticlesCollectionWidget - Most Read - Used in articles
AdvertModule - Advert - M-Rec / Halfpage


Jane Goodall: We can live in harmony with nature
76836 2017-07-25 00:00:00Z Profiles

Jane Goodall: We can live in harmony with nature

by Sally Blundell

A world in which humans live in harmony with nature is still possible, says veteran environmental campaigner Jane Goodall.

Read more
Film festival 2017: David Larsen on the highlights (and lowlights) so far
76887 2017-07-25 00:00:00Z Movies

Film festival 2017: David Larsen on the highlights…

by David Larsen

The New Zealand International Film Festival is back for another year and Metro's David Larsen is in his happy place.

Read more
Richard Dawkins' truth, science and tediousness
76845 2017-07-25 00:00:00Z Books

Richard Dawkins' truth, science and tediousness

by Danyl McLauchlan

Richard Dawkins’ profound admiration for himself comes through loud and clear – with footnotes.

Read more
As anti-vaccination numbers rise, is it a case of herd stupidity, not immunity?
75047 2017-07-25 00:00:00Z Health

As anti-vaccination numbers rise, is it a case of …

by Sarah Lang

It’s astonishing just how many well-educated, presumably semi-intelligent New Zealanders subscribe to and try to spread this kind of nonsense.

Read more
The dreaded autocorrect disaster
76840 2017-07-25 00:00:00Z Life in NZ

The dreaded autocorrect disaster

by Joanne Black

Autocorrect may hide your texting and typing bloopers, but it won’t stop your blushes.

Read more
Retailers say competition laws block charge on plastic bags
76850 2017-07-24 16:14:42Z Environment

Retailers say competition laws block charge on pla…

by RNZ

1.5 billion plastic bags are used here each year and on average it takes just 12 minutes before a bag enters the waste stream.

Read more
Crossword 1037 answers and explanations
6 reasons your next family holiday should be in Taranaki
76777 2017-07-24 08:32:07Z Travel

6 reasons your next family holiday should be in Ta…

by Venture Taranaki

How to holiday like a local in the Naki.

Read more