Another book finished and this was a really good one. A 2015 Christmas present from fellow book blogger and BookCrosser, Ali, this was a lovely treat and very different to other books I’ve read on the Second World War. I do love Persephone books and have almost half of what they’ve published now – do have a peek at their website for some more treats. I have one volume of this author’s short stories (the non-war ones, “Minnie’s Room”) which was also an excellent read, so she’s highly recommended.
Mollie Panter-Downes – “London War Notes”
(25 December 2015 – from Ali)
A set of edited Letters from Abroad sent back from London to America during the Second World War, this is very different from other books I’ve read on the subject or written at the same time. It’s full of information and follows events in order as histories do, and has accounts of the general mood of the people and the effect of bombings and rationing as the diaries to, but it falls between the two (in a good way) and offers a different and fascinating reading experience.
It’s cool and calm, reporting on what’s actually happening when people know, of the effect of not knowing what’s happening when they don’t, commenting on overheard and reported conversation, speaking of the general mood, but in an objective and slightly distanced way. It does get a bit more involved and nuanced as the war wears on (David Kynaston makes this point in his excellent Introduction but I’d noticed it, too) and people’s responses are perhaps a bit more complex, but it retains this essential objectivity, also staying away from descriptions of horrors or details of targets.
This all serves to make it a highly differentiated and very valuable resource, written for information then and there rather than private introspection or later history. It’s fascinating to think that these letters to New York were where a lot of Americans must have got their information on the war – and, later, their countryfolks’ reception in Britain – from.
The writing is impeccable, with a novelist’s touch on the dialogue and description, and those well-known events, figures and attitudes are seen freshly again. Important and interesting – a great combination.
So on Christmas Eve in Iceland there’s a tradition called Jólabókaflóðið or Christmas Book Flood, where people give each other books then curl up and read them. I and my husband Matthew will be doing that soon (well, I’ll be continuing with “The Waves” – he might have a new book under the Christmas tree, shhhhh) and so Happy Christmas to all you readers (and readers) and I’ll be back with new reviews soon xx