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)