Good Evening, Mrs Craven – Mollie Panter Downes

I have taken a small ‘Booker Break’ in honour of the delightful Persephone Week which I mentioned earlier in the week that Claire of Paperback Reader and Verity of The B Files have been running. Sadly with Man Booker madness, going away this weekend and then flying away on holiday on Monday its been a bit manic at Savidge Reads Towers and so I have only so far managed one Persephone read (though I am taking some up north this weekend) what a delightful read my first Persephone has been though.

“Good Evening, Mrs Craven: The Wartime Stories” by Mollie Panter Downes is pretty much as it says, a collection of short stories Mollie Panter Downes wrote in the War which was a period of intense writing for her as she had several newspaper columns and wrote a mass f short stories. This collection contains 21 (yes, 21 in less than 200 pages) of her short stories from the late 1930’s to early 1940’s.

These are not stories of doom and gloom though, in fact on several occasions with some of the wonderful things that the characters came out with I was laughing with glee. This is very much a book that manages to sum up ‘the Blitz Spirit’ whilst observing people and how they cope during times of trial and tribulation. I can’t really describe all the 21 stories as they are a very diverse collection and some are so short if I reviewed them one by one you wouldn’t need to read the collection and I think that people should. They do all have a theme along side ‘blitz spirit’ and that is that they all feature strong women, even in tales such as “Lunch With Mr Biddle” which is actually about a group of women who luncheon with said Mr Biddle, and really this is a book about how women coped and dealt with war.

We see laughter in most of the stories, and believe me the dry wit is wonderful. There were in fact so many great quotes in this novel that I think I will have to do a separate post tomorrow so you can capture some of the joy in the book. Whilst there is a jovial side to the novel of course the War brought dark times. Women’s houses were invaded by evacuee’s some who ruined their lodgings as we see in one tale and of course there was death and the loss of loved ones. Also relations in groups such as ‘The Red Cross Stitching Committee’ became strained, tensions mounted in times of pressure and people even became competitive in the war between themselves, their tragedies and who’s husband/father was better at fighting than who. ‘The Battle of the Greeks’ is a story that completely sums this up.

This is a wonderful and evocative collection that portrays the war not only as a time of trouble but as a time of communities pulling together. (You will also love this is if you like fiction about strong women, groups of gossiping women or women who think everything can be solved ‘with a nice cup of tea’ – just my sort of book.) I will definitely be reading more of Mollie Panter Downes work and much more of the Persephone Books.

I have to thank Claire and Verity as without them and this week this delightful book would have been unlikely to be picked up by me. I am only cross mow I have to give the book back to the library, tut! Have you read any of Mollie Panter Downes work? Is it all as wonderful as this? What other of her works should I read? Which other Persephone author must I get hold of?


Filed under Books of 2009, Mollie Panter Downes, Persephone Books, Review, Short Stories

15 responses to “Good Evening, Mrs Craven – Mollie Panter Downes

  1. I am delighted Simon that you thoroughly enjoyed your first foray into the Persephone world! I am so glad that I helped contribute to that,
    A well-deserved and worthy Booker Break! Please comment on my Persephone Take Off post today for your last chance to win Good Evening, Mrs Craven; it sounds like you want a copy badly!

    I haven’t read any Mollie Panter Downes yet (I am going to read these short stories today) but I had been intending to read One Fine Day along with dovegreyreader et al but I have too many other reading commitments just now and will save it until things quieten down post-Booker (I’m very behind).

    As for other Persephone authors, Marghanita Laski and Dorothy Whipple are a must; they each have a number of titles in the Persephone catalogue (with another one each being published in October) and the ones that I have read of both, I have loved. I will be reviewing Little Boy Lost by Laski later today and I adored it; Someone at a Distance by Whipple is raw and evocative and bloody brilliant (ahem, if you find time to complete my quiz before this evening, you could win a copy of that! and fleue fisher has a draw open for Little Boy Lost…)

    • I do have Little boy Lost on my TBR but someone how isnt me and lives in my house but will remain nameless didnt bring up the Persephones as requested, mind you I have a whack of Man Bookers to go so possibly for the best hahaha. I havent heard of Dorothy Whipple, thats some future research for me then!

  2. “You will also love this is if you like fiction about strong women, groups of gossiping women or women who think everything can be solved ‘with a nice cup of tea’”
    – Simon, you couldn’t have sold this book better to me if you’d tried! It’s silly when I already have 20 unread Persephones, but now I *need* to get this…

    As to which other Persephone authors you should read – ah! So many! Richmal Crompton, Elizabeth Cambridge, Katherine Mansfield, Dorothy Whipple, EM Delafield, Julia Strachey, Elizabeth Anna Hart, Denis Mackail, Dorothy Canfield Fisher, Rachel Ferguson, Ruby Ferguson, Barbara Euphan Todd… so many!

  3. Really, Simon, what the other Simon is saying is that all of the Persephone authors are fabulous and, in the words of Danielle, “I have yet to meet a Persephone that I didn’t like”!

    • I have the feeling that there will not be a Persephone author I don’t like either which makes me consider avoiding them all for a little while for my own health, The Converted One’s health and my bank managers health.

  4. Ann

    One of the things I really enjoy about Persephone Books is how many of them cast a very different light on the war years from that so often portrayed. If you have the time do read Jocelyn Playfair’s ‘A House in the Country’, which is another such.

  5. justicejenniferreads

    This books sounds really great. Thanks for recommending it. I probably would never pick something like this up. First of all, until recently, I avoided short story collection. However, a fiction writing class this last quarter in school, introduced me to how absolutely delightful they can be. I’ll keep an eye out for this one in the future and add it to my list.

    • I don’t normally like short story collections either but am trying to get on with them better and this is a perfect collection. I could read endless collections of short stories if they were all of this calibre, wit and voice.

  6. Pingback: Henrietta’s War – Joyce Dennys « Savidge Reads

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  8. Pingback: Good Evening, Mrs. Craven: The Wartime Stories of Mollie Panter-Downes | Iris on Books

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