Liberation Square asks the reader to imagine a very different 1952, a world in which, instead of a divided Berlin, London and the United Kingdom are carved up between a Soviet state and an American state. The main character, Jane Cawson, lives on the Soviet side of the wall, and comes to realise how precarious her position is when her husband is arrested for the murder of his first wife.
I hadn’t read much in the genre of alternative reality before, and it took a little while to understand the geography. Wisely, however, the author, Gareth Rubin, does not focus on past politics, but instead on the mystery Cawson is trying to solve: the murder of Lorelei Cawson and her husband’s potential political crimes. This book is more of a conspiracy thriller than a history book, and as such, it is a page-turner.
I raced through the story, keen to discover its secrets. The mystery did not hold together entirely convincingly, and Jane’s voice and concerns came across as those of a woman written by a man. However, my real complaint would be that split London was a mirror of split Berlin (even including its own Checkpoint Charlie). The book could easily have been set in Berlin, without needing to create a different history. Perhaps this was the author’s point: under the same circumstances, British people would have developed the same totalitarian regime that developed in Berlin. But this did not seem enough of an unusual or novel theory to warrant the alternative reality, and as a result, the background felt flat and unconvincing. I did enjoy reading Liberation Square, and perhaps readers who read more in this genre will appreciate the twisted setting as much as the conspiracy that makes up the plot.