Wednesday, April 7, 2010
Their Finest Hour and a Half
I've spent many happy hours with this book and a cup of tea over the past few weeks. So rich in detail that I savoured every page, was sorry when it ended and felt sad to remove it from the 'Currently Reading' section of my sidebar. There are several storylines with a lively cast of characters and even a very lovable dog. My favourite was the story of Edith Beadmore, working as a wardrobe assistant at Madame Tussuad's. She rents a room in a house and after yet another round of air-raid sirens, she calmly smooths her bed covers before making her way to the Anderson shelter. Their neighbourhood takes a hit and Edith ends up knocked to the ground in the garden, her mouth full of dirt. A few doors down she witnesses '...the Raleighs' bathroom was shamelessly displayed, a used towel abandoned on the lino, the wallpaper blotched with damp, while in the next room a pink-quilted double bed protruded over the broken floorboards like a vulgar tongue.' Edith experiences two more bombings and the way that Evans writes about that moment between the shrill soaring of a bomb and the moment of impact will have you holding your breath. There is also a relationship in store for Edith that I found completely fascinating to watch develop but enough about that, you'll have to read the book. Catrin Cole is a young copywriter who is drafted by the Ministry of Information to write 'the voice of women' in propaganda films. The storylines were campy and delightful and how can you not smile when reading about So-Bee-Fee gravy browning? Serendipity presents itself in the form of twins, Lily and Rose Stirling, whose story about the rescue of 54 soldiers stranded in Dunkirk produces Catrin's greatest chance for exposure. A film is created with the storyline being hugely exaggerated but hey, if it boosts the country's morale then what's the harm? Enter Ambrose Hilliard, an aging movie star from the twenties, who can't accept that his days of being the handsome lead are over. There are many wonderful peripheral characters in this book. I melted at Cerberus, the dog who is adopted begrudgingly by Ambrose. Even he can't escape the makeup chair when he has to step in as understudy for another dog and has So-Bee-Fee gravy browning and shoe polish applied to the white bit on his nose. Due to rationing he had to eat whatever came his way, sirens and bombs an ever present source of terror but what a trooper! I loved reading about the minutiae of life around London, rationing, the Tube, Oxford Street, Regent Street, Trafalgar Square, St Paul's and St Pancras not to mention the meals made with mock this and that. The mince pies made with grated parsnip lacked that festive appeal though I must say. Since discovering books by Mollie Panter-Downes, Marghanita Laski and Dorothy Whipple I do believe that stories about this era are best when written by people from this era. But Lissa Evans has done a fantastic job of coming quite close and to stand behind the aforementioned ladies in this genre is nothing to sneeze at. I loved this book and with the rich detail I know that a second reading will only add to its pleasure.