Today, I am playing hooky (hookie? hookey? how do you spell this word?) from FFwD to talk about another book that I’ve just finished reading. Actually, I finished it over a month ago, but I’ve been thinking about it.
I found the book in a little bookshop in a little bookstore in a town right on Lake Michigan last summer when we were there on vacation. Remember when I mentioned the Persephone books? Well, yes, this book is one of them and it was actually the first Persephone book I bought. Though I had heard of the books from this blog, I had never actually seen one of the books in person until I ran across this one by chance when we were looking for some vacation reading for the boys.
Good Evening, Mrs. Craven by Mollie Panter-Downes is a series of fictional short stories that all take place in England during World War II. They were all published in the New Yorker magazine during the time of the war itself and each story is like a little time capsule of life in England during the war. One thing I love the about these stories is the variety of perspectives the author presents. They show how the war deeply affected the lives of all the people, not just those who went off to fight.
There’s the perspective of the single lady who lives by herself and, on some level, enjoyed the intimacy and community that she had in the bomb shelters during the air raids. However, once the raids pass, she is left by herself with her lonely life again.
In the title story, Good Evening, Mrs. Craven, a woman struggles with having an affair with a married soldier. She has all the agony of one who is worried about her beloved, but none of the benefits, since she has no legal right to news of him.
Altogether there are 21 short stories and each one is interesting and compelling in its own way. I wouldn’t say that they are cheerful; the seriousness of war permeates every word in each story, but they do have an honesty about them that gives us fascinating glimpses into human nature. For example, you really feel in The Hunger of Miss Burton, her actual, physical hunger, but also her almost tangible emotional hunger. Mollie Panter-Downes does a wonderful job of creating little snapshots of people who may seem ordinary to the naked eye, but have a lot more going on in their minds, hearts, and souls. She shows how the reality of war accentuates every little emotion and thought in her characters and makes these people come alive in your mind.
I was a little sad when I finished reading the book, partly because I am always sad to come to the end of a good one, but also because these little stories were perfect to read in little bits of time. Each story gives you some insight to humanity or some interesting facet the war that you can think about until you have time to read the next one. They do not overwhelm you with the devastation or horror of the war itself (which is good because I don’t know that I could have handled that), but are more of a gentle reminder that war changes people.
After finishing this book, I decided to order a few more Persephone Books. What are you planning to read this summer?