I don’t enjoy much historical fiction as a rule. With the exception of WWII-era fiction, particularly if it’s set in England. I think it’s because it wasn’t so far in the past that I have trouble picturing, relating to or tolerating it. It helps that my own family was there too, so there’s a personal connection.
Generally WWII writing isn’t particularly cheerful, but this book is an exception. It’s an epistolary novel – it consists of letters written by a woman to her childhood friend who is serving in his second world war. Our protagonist, Henrietta, is the wife of a country doctor. She lives in a small country town, well removed from any urban centre that is targeted by German bombers. In fact, people are being evacuated from London to her town.
Since she is outside the cities, her experience of the war is, mainly, sitting it out. This is how a book set during the war can be funny more than anything – she is well removed from any action. Her letters chronicle the goings-on of a diverse and eccentric cast of characters. She tells of her attempts to join in sewing circles, her friend who is more concerned about clothes rationing than food rationing, her gardner’s bemusement with her attempts to “dig for victory” by planting her garden (it doesn’t go very well) and a neighbour who feeds her meat rations to her four dogs.
The book consists entirely of the minutia of daily life in a small town, and features minor dramas, controversies and conflicts. It’s my favourite type of understated humour, and I particularly enjoyed Henrietta’s tone and ability to poke fun at herself.
It’s a very short book with large print and illustrations, so it really is a quick read. I finished it in a day during Dewey’s 24-hour readathon and went on to continue reading. I would highly recommend it to read on a rainy day with a cup of hot tea and a cosy blanket. It’s not great literature, but it is wonderful entertainment!
Spirited Henrietta wishes she was the kind of doctor’s wife who knew exactly how to deal with the daily upheavals of war. But then, everyone in her close-knit Devonshire village seems to find different ways to cope: there’s the indomitable Lady B, who writes to Hitler every night to tell him precisely what she thinks of him; the terrifyingly efficient Mrs Savernack, who relishes the opportunity to sit on umpteen committees and boss everyone around; flighty, flirtatious Faith who is utterly preoccupied with the latest hats and flashing her shapely legs; and then there’s Charles, Henrietta’s hard-working husband who manages to sleep through a bomb landing in their neighbour’s garden.
With life turned upside down under the shadow of war, Henrietta chronicles the dramas, squabbles and loyal friendships that unfold in her affectionate letters to her ‘dear childhood friend’ Robert. Warm, witty and perfectly observed, Henrietta’s War brings to life a sparkling community of determined troupers who pull together to fight the good fight with patriotic fervour and good humour.
Henrietta’s War is part of The Bloomsbury Group, a new library of books from the early twentieth-century chosen by readers for readers. – Goodreads
Book Title: Henrietta’s War
Author: Joyce Dennys
Published By: Bloomsbury Publishing
Released: 2009 (originally released 1985)
Genre: Literary Fiction, WWII, Humour, Epistolary
Date Read: October 21, 2017