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Ten books set on the Home Front

319386Time for another list! We had such fun last time that Moira at Clothesinbooks.com and I have got together again, this time to share our ten favourite books set on the Home Front. Mine are all set in WWII. Here goes . . .

First up is Joyce Dennys’s Henrietta’s War (1983 – but written during the war). This is also on my list of books that make me laugh. I love it – and the second one, Henrietta Sees It Through, is just as good. Dennys was a GP’s wife in Budleigh Salterton, and these are purportedly letters written to her cousin. They are fiction, but I am sure they drew heavily on her own experience. They are charming, witty, and illustrated with her own delightful drawings – and along the way you get a very good idea of what the home front was like on the Devon coast.

Penelope Fitzgerald’s Human Voices (1980). Set in the BBC where Fitzgerald worked herself during the war. Funny, touching, perfectly observed: vintage Fitzgerald. I must reread it – again.

Muriel Spark, The Girls of Slender Means (1963). Very short, a novella really, and not a word wasted. It’s 1945 and the girls of slender means live in a London hostel, the May of Teck, with an unexploded bomb in the garden. What happens offers them a glimpse into the heart of darkness that will influence the course of their future lives. I’d love you to review this, Moira. Clothes are very important here.

Elizabeth Bowen’s novel The Heat of the Day is her best known work set in WWII, but I would go for The Collected Stories (1980). My copy is falling apart. The section, ‘The War Years’ contains some wonderful stories, including ‘Pink May,’ ‘The Demon Lover,’ and ‘The Happy Autumn Fields.’ No-one is better at describing the sheer strangeness and dislocation of war-time London.

Anthony Powell, The Soldier’s Art (1966), the eighth volume in A Dance to the Music of Time. Nick Jenkins joins up, but is too old to see active service, so it is all set in the UK. I have included it really for the part set in the Blitz, one of the saddest and most memorable sections in the whole series.

Lissa Evans, Their Finest Hour and a Half (2010), set in a documentary film unit just after Dunkirk. I’ve already blogged about this lovely novel. http://www.christinepoulson.co.uk/category/their-finest-hour-and-a-half/.

And now some crime. Laura Wilson’s An Empty Death (2009) is set in London in the Blitz and features DI Ted Stratton. The period detail is spot on. A good, gripping, meaty read. Her earlier novel, Stratton’s War, is also excellent.

Margery Allingham, Coroner’s Pidgin (1945). Albert Campion, after a secret mission abroad, stops off in his London flat and immediately gets embroiled in a murder investigation. His efforts to get home to his wife, Amanda, are constantly thwarted and when he does, well, the novel has one of  my favourite endings.

Rennie Airth’s The Dead of Winter (2009), the third and last of his novels featuring (by now former police inspector) John Madden. A Polish land girl is murdered during the blackout and Madden gets involved because she was working on his farm. I don’t think Airth is as well known as he ought to be. He is a terrific writer.

And finally, a true classic: Christiana Brand’s Green for Danger (1945). In August 1944, during the V-1 Doodlebug offensive on London, a patient dies on the operating table after being injured by a flying bomb. A nurse is suspicious, but before she can say why, she dies too. Enter Inspector Cockrill. Pure Golden Age pleasure.

That’s it. I can’t wait to see what Moira’s chosen. I’ll add a link when her post is up.

Here it is:  Clothesinbooks.com/Thursday List- Books About the WW2 Homefront. Fascinating . . .

 

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More Dancing To the Music of Time

‘Generals, as a collective rank, incline to be physically above or below, average stature. Aylmer Conyers, notably tall, possessed in addition to his height much natual distinction.In fact his personality flled the room, although without active aggression.At the same time he was a man who gave the impression, rightly or wrongly,that he would stop at nothing. If he decided to kill you, he would kill you; if he thought it sufficient to knock you down, he would knock you down: if a mere reprimand was all that was required, he would confine himself to a reprimand’ And so we are introduced to General Conyers, one of my favourite characters in AT LADY MOLLY’S, the fourth volume in A DANCE TO THE MUSIC OF TIME. A little later the narrator adds: ‘He looked like an infinitely accomplished actor got up to play the part that was his own.’ Some books are forever associated with the time that you read them and these books remind me of the time when, like the narrator, I was single and living an unsettled life in London on the fringes of academic life, though in far less elevated circles. Such books can become part of your mental furniture, the characters more memorable sometimes than people you have really known. That’s especially true of novels like these where the characters are so brilliantly drawn and the dialogue so vivid and convincing. Yesterday I was in London walking down Picadilly past the Ritz on the way to the London Library, and remembered not only a long ago occasion when I drank champagne cocktails there with an equally long ago boyfriend, but also volume 3, THE ACCEPTANCE WORLD,in which the narrator’s love affair with Jean Duport begins after dinner at the Ritz. In fact, now that I come to think about it, I think we’d gone to the Ritz because I’d just read the book and wanted to see the statue of the bronze nymph in the Palm Court. I’d better make it clear that that is the one and only time I’ve been to the Ritz – and that was well over twenty-five years ago. Perhaps I am due a return visit.