A WWII book with a difference. This one concentrates on 2 young women flatting in London during the Blitz. Bunty and Emmy have been best friends since childhood and despite the ravages of war are keeping their chins up and carrying on marvellously. There’s a real flavour of the language and thought patterns of the time. Em sees an ad for a junior at a newspaper and her dream of becoming a lady war correspondent seems a bit closer. With much enthusiastic encouragement she applies and gets the job. It’s only when she turns up for her first day at work that she discovers her lack of due diligence. The job is with Women’s Friend magazine, an ailing, old-fashioned rag with a virago of an agony aunt - the redoubtable Mrs Bird - who refuses to answer any questions to do with sex, affairs, politics, religion, or indeed, much else. Her advice is generally to buck up and get on with life.
Like many others, Em volunteers night shifts for the Fire Service, where Bunty’s boyfriend William works. The work of these brave men is vividly described, as are the effects of Luftwaffe bombing. The volunteers catch a couple of hours of sleep before going to their day jobs. Dismayed by Mrs Bird’s hard-heartedness, Em answers some reader letters with sensible kindness, signing off as Mrs Bird. What could possibly go wrong?
The mood of the novel, at first refreshingly upbeat, darkens. Em’s fiancé sends an unwelcome telegram. She has a go at William for putting his life at risk to save a rescued child’s doll. Although there are still happy times and wonderful moments, tragedy lurks. This is a great book for smiles and tears, and for the flavour of the time. Bunty and Em fall out in terrible circumstances, but are reconciled.
The author fell in love with women’s magazines of the period and was struck by the drama of the choices women of that time had to make, which no doubt accounts for the authenticity of the tone. Part of the book’s appeal is in the upright values the characters espouse. There’s something to be said for pluck, stoicism and cheerful unselfishness.
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