The 1960’s in colour


Necessary Lies Diane Chamberlain

Fans of this popular author will tell you they love her characters. And quite rightly, her characterisation is terrific, which is doubly terrific when you know see the ensemble approach she takes.

This is the second of Diane’s books that I’ve read.  Today, as I reflected on it, what strikes me is her strength in conveying messages and ideas through inanimate characters. In The Silent Sister, it was a necklace and violin. In this book the 1960’s is a character in a way that you don’t expect in a book that’s more contemporary fiction and less historical fiction.  Few historical fiction writers give the era they focus on such a strong character.  My only real comparison is the way New York is the fifth character in Sex and The City.

Instantly you’re right in the 1960’s. This is not a 21st century version, but the real thing. The racism, sexism and superiority infiltrate your brain so subtly. You don’t need anything else to explain Jane’s marriage and her choices.  She’s not a heroine of my time but of two generations ago, such a difference. It was almost creepy how the author let you see that without telling you.

It was clear that few of the characters had choices, in fact even the wealthy men were with one exception stuck in their time.

This book might be an easy enjoyable read, but it should essential reading for every student of 20th century America, especially women’s history.

The real power in this ending comes not in the way the story finishes (which is lovely) but in the author’s notes where it becomes clear that this Eugenics approach wasn’t a few rogue administrators which I had assumed. This was known government policy. And they say that truth is stranger than fiction. Sometimes it’s simply worse than fiction.


For transparency’s sake I should add that on her recent trip to London I was part of a group who had afternoon tea with the author. Whilst, meeting her encouraged me to read her books it has no bearing on my recommendation.


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