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 may have mentioned Rennie Airth before, but I think he deserves a post all to himself. I have recently read with great enjoyment the last in his John Madden trilogy, THE DEAD OF WINTER. He is one of those writers whose novels I buy as soon as they go into paperback. The first and, I still think, the best is RIVER OF DARKNESS. It did very well, was short-listed for a fistful of awards and won the Grand Prix de Littérature Policière. It is set in the 1920s. Detective Inspector John Madden arrives in a Surrey village to investigate the savage murder of an entire household. Only a traumatised five year child, who hide under a bed, has escaped. So begins the hunt for a serial killer of exceptional cunning and ruthlessness. Madden has his personal demons, too: he is shell-shocked from his time in the trenches, and has never recovered from the deaths from influenza of his wife and baby daughter. It’s an intensely exciting thriller, but there is also a humanity and a thoughtfulness about it that makes it a memorable as well as a compelling read. And it has one of the most heart-stopping endings I have ever read.
Madden leaves the force at the end of RIVER OF DARKNESS to become a farmer, but in THE BLOOD-DIMMED TIDE and THE DEAD OF WINTER Airth finds ways to bring him back into play. THE DEAD OF WINTER is set towards the end of World War II and Madden becomes involved when the young Polish woman who works on his farm is murdered in the London blackout. The evocation of war-time London is pitch perfect. Although it doesn’t quite reach the heights of RIVER OF DARKNESS, this is still an engrossing read and I’ll be sorry if this really the last in the series.