I do love books written in the form of letters. The character of the writer, be it fictional or not, comes through so beautifully with no need to tell us, the reader, anything about them at all. If a fictional letter writer this needs writing of the highest order to achieve. I have recently re-read Henrietta sees it Through by Joyce Dennys (a sequel to Henrietta's War reviewed here) and simply have to mention it again. Have checked out my earlier post in which this was mentioned and here is what I said then. I see no reason to change a word.
"I found the Admiral on our doorstep. As soon as I saw his face I knew that something must have happened to Teddy their youngest son in France.............Mrs Admiral was quite calm but her face looked different. She sat on the kitchen chair and picked up the corner of her apron and examined it closely. 'I keep thinking about him when he was a little boy' she said in a careful voice. 'We're not telling anyone because of the croquet this afternoon. We can't let anybody down"
....some visitors from the hotel wandered into the club....'My dear croquet!' said the Lady Visitor 'and bowls too, how sweet. Of course these people simply don't know there is a war on"
The Admiral dropped his pipe on the grass. As he stooped to pick it up he laid his hand for a moment on Mrs Admiral's knee"
I welled up when reading this and welled up again just now when writing.
Just simply wonderful and a portrayal of the quiet indomitable English way of country life that just, well, got on with it during the war. Sad thing is that Lady B, a simply delightful and lovable character, says that after the War is over we should all 'mix more'and not just pull apart after everyone has joined together so well in fighting the common enemy. This immediately made me think of the Village by Marghanita Laski where, sadly, we see exactly what happens to the class divisions the minute VE Day is over. An absorbing book and read in conjunction with Joyce Dennys makes for sobering thoughts.
Note: The Village is published by Persephone and is a wonderful study of how the old class divisions rear their ugly heads once the war is over and the unifying factor vanishes.
Then, by coincidence, the next book I picked up this week is Dear Lupin which are letters between a father and his son. Anybody who has read Diary of a Nobody will pick up on the Lupin reference immediately and the likeness between Lupin and Charlie Mortimer, the son in this book, is exactly exactly what you would expect. Roger Mortimer was born in 1909 and came from a pretty well off family. He was educated at Eton and Sandhurst and was commissioned into the Coldstream guards. He fought in WW2 and was at Dunkirk, later captured and spent the remainder of his war years in a camp prison. After the war he became racing correspondent of the Sunday Times until his retirement. He seems to have been endlessly mordantly witty with a rather jaundiced but still hopeful view of life and, though his son obviously disappointed him, his affection never abated nor did his financial help, and he sent Charlie letters throughout his life. If Charlie had been my son I would probably have murdered him so impatient would I have become with his fecklessness, but Roger never did and, as the years passed, became resigned to his way of life.
I could quote the entire book to you as an illustration of the flavour of these letters as it is difficult to pull out some plums as they are all wonderful, but here are a few:
On being moved in a luncheon car in a train: "waiter says 'There's a young honeymoon couple who don't want to be separated and your table would do them nicely. Would you mind moving?.........shifted with ill grace to leave to table to a very dirty young man with a beard like black cotton wool and a dark lady with the promising beginnings of a heavy cavalry moustache. They may not want to be separated now I thought, but I bet they soon will be....'
'Aunt Shirley accompanied by her nurse companion, had to stay three nights in a hotel in Dorset last week. Unfortunately Aunt had to get up several times in the night. Each time she went back to the wrong room and the climax came when she climbed into a bed already occupied by a honeymoon couple. The manager asked her to leave next morning'.
'Have you considered the church? There is much to be said for the quiet life of a country curate. Fortunately in the Church of England an ordained priest is not commited to any but the vaguest of beliefs....'
Both these books, one fiction (though pretty sure that Joyce Denys based a lot of her novel on real life) and non-fiction have in common that wonderful English eccentricity, that Wodehousian attitude to life, the famed stiff upper lip and the viewing of any mad and off the wall happening with an enviable sangfroid. Loved both these books and on a dark miserable day when I had to pull the curtains at 3.30pm and put on the lights, they warmed my heart beautifully.
Both of them so, well, so British......