Sunday, 26 July 2009

Henrietta's War


Joyce Dennys created me in her image, an artist who married a doctor and moved to a quiet, coastal town in England during World War II and voiced her frustrations through my character. I originally appeared in the form of letters to my "childhood's friend" Robert, complete with witty illustrations, in an article for Sketch and became a successful, regular feature until the War ended. Now Bloomsbury have reissued the collected letters as part of their The Bloomsbury Group series.

Epistolary and autobiographical, my wartime experience is in the vein of 84 Charing Cross Road, charming and witty and with our own benefactress of edible delights in short supply. My friend Robert is serving overseas so I keep my news from the home front light and diverting. My letters feature a cast of highly amusing characters and I regale you with humorous acts of patriotism at home. Of much entertainment is my friend, Lady B:

"Before going to bed she sits down and writes a letter to Hitler, telling him just exactly what she thinks of him. She says it is has never failed to give her a good night's sleep. I think her great-grandchildren will enjoy those letters, don't you?"

I also indulge in descriptions of my dog Perry and his sufferings in an age where meat is rationed and there is a shortage of dog biscuits. His nature is so fickle that you would suppose he was a cat. His displeasure at dwindling meat supply, however, does not inspire dire humour as it does in humans:

"'I must say, I never thought I'd come to tripe,' said Colonel Simpkins sadly. Then his face brightened, 'If you ask me,' he said, 'I think this rationing is simply offal.'
And I had so hoped, Robert, that we were going to get through our first week of meat rationing without anybody making that joke."

Food and its shortage is prolific in my letters' content as I draw attention to the little sugar, margarine instead of butter, tinned rice instead of baked puddings, distress on the part of Cook, a Christmas dinner of reduced circumstance, parties where we bring our own tea, but I decline mention of the lack of bananas.

However, my husband Charles, is still sent "Charles's Cheese", a huge block of Stilton, sent every year by a grateful patient and the signal that Christmas is approaching. It is not the cheese that keeps us awake at night but the air raid sirens and incendiary bomb. There was also the badger that was thought a parachuter.

My accident proneness takes up some letter width:

"I dashed off to put away the mop which I happened to be holding in my hand and fell downstairs. I landed on my head, there was a loud cracking noise in my neck, and I thought what a silly way it was to get killed in the middle of a war."

Throughout prevails a sense of maintaining a stiff upper lip and patriotic outlook in times of adversity. One does what one can for one's country like giving blood, not without its own sacrifice:

"'I think you'd better put some of that blood back,' I said weakly.
'Keep perfectly still,' said the lieutenant, who had, presumably, witnessed so many blood-transfusion deaths that he wasn't going to start getting excited about mine.
But I didn't die."

My letters provide entertaining insight into jolly times of hardship on the home front.

Always your affectionate but not Childhood's Friend,


verity said...

Exciting! Envious that you have got it before me.

Paperback Reader said...

It makes for good Sunday afternoon reading.

Rachel said...

Can't wait to read this! Book ban is looking increasingly impossible!!!

Paperback Reader said...

I realise that self-imposed book bans don't work for me; I have no restraint. I find it helps though to leave cards at home and carry limited cash, especially when I'm on Charing Cross Road.

Nymeth said...

I love how you did this review, and I'm adding this to my wishlist immediately :)

(Book bans don't seem to work for me either. I might have ordered yet more books yesterday :S It started with Good Wives, and, well, one thing led to another...)

Paperback Reader said...

Thanks, Ana :). I enjoyed a more creative approach and change.

I have been on a bit of a book buying rampage myself over the last week and I really need to curb it as the TBR list is out of control as it is without adding to it.

Darlene said...

"I think this rationing is simply offal". How wonderful and your review is very clever. I'm working my way through a library book due in two days, Rude Awakenings of a Jane Austen Addict, and then I think Henrietta's War must jump to the top of the pile.

claire said...

My Miss Pettigrew arrived last Friday, but not this! Am hoping it gets here today!! So excited!!!

Paperback Reader said...

Thanks, Darlene. I hope you enjoy it! It's such a witty and sweet book.

Claire, such a lovely arrival. I hope Henrietta's War shows up for you today and that you are thoroughly charmed by it.

claire said...

It did arrive today (well, technically, yesterday)! :D

Paperback Reader said...

Oh yay! I hope you read it soon; it's a very quick read. So far I have only read blog reviews from UK inhabitants so I am definitely interested in whether your opinion differs, whether it makes any difference at all.

StuckInABook said...

What a great way to do your review, wonderful. And I love her response to the offal joke, glad you picked that as one of your quotations. Do email Bloomsbury with a copy of this review, or just to tell them what you thought of the novel - they love getting feedback on this venture. And it might encourage them to republish Henrietta Sees It Through!

Paperback Reader said...

Thanks, Simon. The offal response was one of my favourite parts of the book. I emailed Bloomsbury and hope that they do publish the sequel!

claire said...

Am also interested in how I view this, not being English, but she looks absolutely delightful in the illustrations. So endearing, already!

Paperback Reader said...

Endearing is a very good description of Henrietta!

Something's Dishy said...

ooh, I must get this book soon! It's now on my wishlist. Clever review by the way!

Paperback Reader said...

Hi Something's Dishy, thanks for commenting. I hope you enjoy the book once you do have a copy. I enjoyed writing the review :).