Category Archives: Joyce Dennys

Henrietta Sees It Through – Joyce Dennys

So today I thought I would look at a book that I have already devoured from a series of perfect summer reads. These are of course the new Bloomsbury Group titles which look like they are going to live up to the ones released last year (though I still have three of those to read – whoops, nice to have something to look forward to) and are wonderful books that once forgotten are being fondly re-read or delightfully discovered. I loved Henrietta’s War when I read it last year and so of course was incredibly excited about Henrietta Sees It Through being published and naturally it’s the first in the new series I simply had to read.

‘Henrietta Sees It Through’ is the war years from 1942 – 1945 as written by our narrator Henrietta the doctors wife in the Devonshire countryside in the form of letters to her childhood friend Robert. It’s a side to war you don’t often see as really bar the rationing people aren’t that aware there is a war on (and this is written to much comical effect in the previous book Henrietta’s War too) to begin with. In fact most of them are in competition with just what they can do in order to be a part of the ‘War Effort’. Be it from the amount of heating materials they use, the way they can create clothes out of curtains and pyjama’s, who can knit the most and who can house the most evacuee’s.

There is a much darker twist though as the book goes on and suddenly Devonshire isn’t quite as safe as it once was – the siren is even rung on several occasions which has been unheard of until now. Though still incredibly funny in parts I can imagine Joyce Dennys couldn’t just make a set of columns for Sketch magazine (which is where Henrietta was created) constantly funny despite the fact the idea behind it was in some way to make people laugh during these trying times, Dennys own war effort if you will. So people in the village that Henrietta knows do loose loved ones as many people did and though there is sadness Dennys mixes in the hope of the Blitz Spirit which wasn’t just alive and well in London but around the whole country.

I wanted to include a passage which sums up a lot of the Henrietta spirit and also something that will strike a chord with all us book lovers out there. Here is a small drama in the world of Henrietta whilst trying to ‘do good’ during war times…

 ‘But it’s monstrous! It’s frightful! It’s a crime!’ I cried, getting red in the face. ‘Here we are stuck down here: no theatre, no music; the only thing which stops us becoming screaming savages is books, and now —‘
‘Pulp, all pulp,’ said Mrs Savernack, who dislikes books as some people dislike cats.
‘Do go away, Henrietta,’ said Mrs Admiral. ‘You really are terribly in the way.’
I rushed blindly into the street, nearly colliding with little Mrs Simpkins in her bath-chair, who was bringing Stray Thoughts For Girls as her offering.
On the way home I decided to steal the Fieldings. It was quite simple. That night, while the nine o’clock news deadened the sound of my burglarious entrance, I walked into the Savernacks’ house, saw the key of the depot on the hall table, picked it up, and walked out again. Then I went to the depot, lifted the Fieldings tenderly from their shelf, put five one pound notes on the counter under a copy of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, returned the key to the Savernacks’ hall table, and went home.
‘More books?’ said Charles, looking up from The Times. ‘You’ll have to get another shelf put up soon.’
Next morning, like a murderer unable to keep away form the scene of his crime, I took another book down to the Good Book depot. The empty space on the shelf where the Fieldings had been yawned accusingly empty, but nobody seemed to have noticed it, and Mrs Savernack accepted Gone With The Wind very graciously.

I again thoroughly enjoyed the second, and sadly I think final, instalment of Henrietta and the goings on of her and her friends such as the wonderful Lady B, the ditzy flirtatious Faith (a lovely happy story line there) and a few new characters too not just of the human variety either. I said last year that ‘I haven’t smirked, giggled and laughed out loud at a book so much in quite some time. A perfect and delightful book’ after reading ‘Henrietta’s War’ (as you will see from the picture below where it is features on the back of this very book) and was worried this one might not be able to live up to the last one. However with Dennys adding a few darker shades of the war in I found the contrast added something extra that made this a wonderful follow up and whilst I carried on laughing, I was made to think much more about war and its effects. 9/10

Savidge suggests perfect prose partners;

Henrietta’s War by Joyce Dennys (you have to read both, it’s as simple as that really)
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society – Mary Ann Shaffer (wonderful novel of wartime Guernsey as told through letters between several wonderful characters, it will make you laugh and touch you emotionally, a favourite from 2008)

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Filed under Bloomsbury Group, Bloomsbury Publishing, Books of 2010, Joyce Dennys, Review

Books to Watch Out for in 2010

Last year I did a post on the books that I was looking forward to in 2009. This year I thought, along with my new slightly though not very much more minimal TBR, I would go with a more simplistic look at books I am looking forward to, rather than what might just be a big book everyone reads because its ‘the big book’ though if some of these are ‘the big book’ thats wonderful. I am just not sure if I will obtain or read them with this no buying malarkey (already its slightly vexing me and we are on day five) but you can run out and get them you lucky so and so’s. I digress. They might be big hits they might not, I am just really, really excited about these particular forthcoming books in 2010…

First up is women’s fiction and I am incredibly excited about one of my favourite authors (who is also a lovely lady) who is bringing what looks to be a wonderful Byzantine epic of a novel about an ‘actress, empress, whore’. It also happens to have what I already think is one of the most delightful book covers of 2010. I am talking about the delightful Stella Duffy and her latest novel ‘Theodora’. Its one of the books I am very excited about. Other female novelists who have big literary books out I am looking forward to are… Andrea Levy with ‘The Long Song’  which is all about the last years of slavery in Jamaica, I am hoping this leaves me as breathless as ‘Small Island’ which blew me away last year. Xiaolu Guo with ‘Lovers in the Age of Indifference’ which I think is a brilliant title and sounds like it could be a collection of tales rather than a novel.

Women also seem to be writing the crime I like the look of this year and I want to read more crime even if it’s not the latest releases ba-humbug this year. Sophie Hannah brings us her latest crime escapade with the intriguingly titled ‘A Room Swept White’. This alredy sounds like it will be another of Hannah’s brilliantly twisting plots as a TV producer is given a card sender anonymous with sixteen digits on it, and soon a woman the producer is making a documentary about is found dead with an identical card in her pocket even down to the sixteen digits.  Susan Hill’s enigmatic detective Simon Serrailler is back for his fifth outing looking at the murders of prostitutes in ‘The Shadows in the Street’s’. Finally in crime due out in autumn, which means if by luck one falls out of the sky and lands on my doorstep it’s still a long blooming wait, is another of the books I am most excited about… ‘Started Early, Took The Dog’ is the fourth instalment of my favourite series of books ever featuring Jackson Brodie by Kate Atkinson. The bonus with it being so late in the year is it won’t lead me into temptation and can go on a Christmas list of be bought in January 2011.

Now for the men of fiction. I think another of the biggest releases for me this year will be the latest Ian McEwan. I am a big fan and though no synopses are currently floating about regarding the plot of ‘Solar’ I have heard it is his ‘eco’ book so this could be very interesting. Other books to look out for are the latest Chris Cleave ‘After the End of the World’ which isn’t about an apocalypse and is in fact about a child with leukaemia. With the follow up to the Bronte brilliance of ‘The Taste of Sorrow’ Jude Morgan takes us to Regency times with ‘A Little Folly’. Carlos Ruiz Zafon releases the gothic sounding ‘The Prince of Mist’ which I am looking forward to, though I do still need to read ‘The Angels Game’ hem, hem. Another big book for 2010 looks to be the new Yann Martel book ‘Beatrice & Virgil’ all about a taxidermist.

Debut wise a book I already own though wont be reading till just before it comes out is Natasha Solomon’s ‘Mr Roseblum’s List: Or Friendly Guidance for the Aspiring Englishman’ which from the synopsis sounds hilarious. It’s all about a man trying to become the perfect English Gent. A debut I don’t own but would love to is ‘Advice for Strays’ by Justine Kilkerr all about Marnie whose father and cat (along with all the local cats) disappear and something seems to be following her, something dark an intriguing tale of loss. Erm I think that’s it… I am not going to do non fiction as I am rubbish in that area. Seriously, I know I have said I will read more but as I am not buying I haven’t been looking, so there.

Oh how could I forget. The re-release of the year for me will of course be Nancy Mitford’s ‘Highland Fling’ even if it wont be until 2011 till I can read it anything by Nancy Mitford is wonderful and must be celebrated so I am thrilled Capuchin Classics are re-publishing that. I also have everything crossed, which is becoming quite painful, for The Bloomsbury Group to release another series of books – preferably a selection that features another Joyce Dennys or three that I can lust after! That’s it for now, that’s officially all the books I am most excited about this year today. 

What are you looking forward to?

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Filed under Andrea Levy, Carlos Ruiz Zafon, Chris Cleave, Ian McEwan, Joyce Dennys, Jude Morgan, Kate Atkinson, Nancy Mitford, Natasha Solomons, Sophie Hannah, Stella Duffy, Susan Hill, Xiaolu Guo, Yann Martel

Henrietta’s War – Joyce Dennys

Do you ever have the inkling that a book might just be so completely and utterly ‘you’ that you actually put off reading it for quite some time as you are scared of being right? Now I know that sounds a little bit crazy but once you have read that book there are two outcomes. You may either hate it and end up being deflated and forlorn possibly never wanting to open a book again… ever! Or there is the possibility you will love the book so much you wish that you could un-read it and have the pleasure of that first read all over again? Joyce Dennys ‘Henrietta’s War’ is definitely the latter for me, utterly delightful. I think that any book that has the line “Dear Robert, I have a great urge to knit something for you” with in the first chapter (or letter in this case) is going to be a hit with me

Henrietta’s War actually started out as columns in Sketch. Dennys was an artist who has many successful collections though once married and a mother in the late 1920’s her life became a domestic one in the English countryside and so needed something to take her frustrations out on. Out came Henrietta’s wartime letters to her ‘childhood friend’ Robert who is ‘out on the front’ and eventually became published as a collection and a novel in the form of this wonderful book.

Henrietta is a ‘doctors wife’ (which all the local women think is very important in a slightly unconvinced way) to Charles and mother to Bill and Linnet living in Devon. As we meet her World War II is raging though where she lives the only real way that war is effecting them is the rations and ‘people are talking cockney up and down the high street’. Having home help she spends most of her time trying to join in the War Effort, joining local clubs, doing good, gossiping with her friends (wonderful characters like the bossy Lady B and Mrs Savernake and the flirty Faith who ‘The Conductor’ is in love with) sunbathing on her roof, writing letters to Robert and getting a lot of bed rest.

To have visitors during a Day in Bed is a grave error. It means getting out to do your hair, make up your face, and have your bed made. A little talk on the telephone with a sympathetic friend who is really interested in your symptoms is the only social intercourse that should be allowed. A good deal of pleasure can be derived from asking for your fountain-pen and notepaper, and then not write any letters…

For some people the war wasn’t all bombs and terror, for some in the middle of nowhere it must have felt somewhat removed in many ways and Dennys addresses this. She also looks at how these people lived, admittedly in a comical tongue in cheek way, when the greatest crisis they had was not having enough sugar to make marmalade for the villages ‘Marmalade Week’. We see how the villagers coped and in some ways continued as normal, or as normally as they could, having jumble sales to raise money, joining drama clubs and even at one point getting arrested as Henrietta does.

Most war novels focus on the awful things that happened during that time, what Dennys does with these fictional letters is try and see the light in these dark times and to look for a way to entertain people during the difficulties with laughter.

But now such is Hitler’s power, this evil influence has begun to effect even the residents, and it keeps breaking out in the most unlikely quarters. Miss Piper, the girl in the greengrocers, has gone into jodhpurs; Faith, our friend, looks quite superb in a pair of pin stripped flannels; Mrs Savernack, though I can hardly expect you to believe this, saw fit to appear in a pair of khaki shorts (we all consider her excuse she is digging her way to victory a poor one); and I tell you frankly, Robert, only my love for Charles has kept me out of a pair of green corduroy dungarees.

I haven’t smirked, giggled and laughed out loud at a book so much in quite sometime. A perfect and delightful book and if that wasn’t enough there is more… the lovely illustrations that Dennys also put into the letters.  

Images & Words of Dennys

If you love books by Nancy Mitford, or that show WWII from a different view point, or have you laughing out loud on public transport, or like books set in villages that house wonderful quirky characters (or all of these) then this is most definitely a book for you. I was also in many ways reminded of Good Evening, Mrs Craven by Mollie Panter Downes which I loved earlier in the year. I am so pleased that this gem has been brought back by Bloomsbury and into the mainstream for people to enjoy. I can think of three people instantly I will be buying copies for. I am only hoping, with everything crossed, that Bloomsbury decides to release ‘Henrietta Sees It Through’ which would just be wonderful.

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Filed under Bloomsbury Group, Bloomsbury Publishing, Books of 2009, Joyce Dennys, Review