Time 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 . . .
I have got one of those annoying colds that just goes on and on with days when I think I am getting better followed by relapses when I don’t want to do anything but loll around and read something undemanding. So what did I read? This Xmas my brother gave me one of his own books that I have long coveted: the Black Box edition of Fredric Brown thrillers containing Night of the Jabberwock, The Screaming Mimi, Knock Three-One-Two, and The Fabulous Clipjoint. No new book could have pleased me more. I was thrilled when I unwrapped it, and promptly reread them all.
More sickbed reading included a writer new to me: Lissa Evans’s Their Finest Hour and a Half, a novel set in WWII and organised around the making of a feature film about the evacuation from Dunkirk. I loved this – learned a lot about film-making, too. I especially enjoyed this: when Arthur proposes to thirty-six year old Edith on their first date, she immediately says yes, much to the surprise of both of them: her reply had ‘been preceded on her part by a series of very rapid and rational thoughts – he has just proposed, he seems sincere, he is not hideous, he has a good job in civilian life, he owns a house, he is very likely the only person who will ever ask for my hand in marriage . . . oh, and won’t it just knock Verna [her cousin] for six – and it had been the last and most most venial of these had triggered her answer.’ After this I was longing to know how their marriage would turn out. A lovely novel: funny, touching, full of fascinating period detail: perfect reading when feeling under the weather. One tiny reservation: in 1940 would someone have talked about ‘letting their charlady go?’ Wouldn’t they just give them the sack? It is so hard to get absolutely everything right. I enjoyed this hugely and thanks to Moira at ClothesinBooks.com for recommending it.
I’ll end, dear friends and fellow bloggers, by wishing you a happy New Year with lots of rewarding reading.