Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Henrietta's War

London: Bloomsbury, 2009.
176 p.

Thanks to Bloomsbury for reprinting this collection of fictional letters, which were written during wartime for a British paper, and to Thomas of My Porch for sending this copy to me, I was able to spend an entertaining few hours transported to 1940 & 1941 in the British countryside. We are hearing directly from Henrietta as she writes to a childhood friend, Robert, who is overseas somewhere. She shares the news of their village and their daily life as they cope with war rationing and preparations for imminent invasion.

This is not as grim as it first appears. It really was entertaining reading: Henrietta is a woman of a certain age who is afraid of loud bangs as well as numerous other things. Still, she is keeping her spirits up and the village is full of other quirky characters also trying to make do as best they can. Henrietta's husband is the local doctor so she has a certain status, and her focus is very much on the middle class villagers who try to survive the presence of uncouth evacuated Londoners as well as the threat of German invasion. Food shortages, worry about those overseas, the daily adjustments of life during wartime, all appear but in a very gentle kind of way. They are illustrated with little sketches of the characters, and there are the usual suspects to be found -- the aristocratic widow, the blustery ex-Admiral, the local doctor of course, Henrietta's flighty single friend Faith, evacuees of an artistic sort, and the women of the local Institute.

It's a rather sweet and charming tale, with timely comments on the war (the letters were contemporaneous with the war) and a strong sense of the way civilians kept their spirits up not knowing what was going on with those they loved, who were out in the thick of things. It was a light read, but had some moments of pathos as well.

If you like epistolary fiction or war fiction you will love this one, I think. Amusing illustrations add to the enjoyment.

Other views:

Elaine at Random Jottings shares some of the lovely images from this story

Simon at Stuck in a Book provides comparison to Diary of a Provincial Lady

Nan at Letters from a Hill Farm points out some amusing quotes

Cornflower gives us hope for a second volume of Henrietta

Thomas of My Porch talks about Henrietta in the context of epistolary fiction


  1. This one is currently on my Book Depository cart! I love epistolary fiction, so I really think it'll be a winner for me.

    PS: I got into library school! :D Thank you again for the advice re: my application :)

  2. I really enjoyed reading this review - thank you so much for sharing. Recently I have hugely enjoyed Good Evening Mrs Craven: the warime stories of Mollie Panter Downes and definately recommend these to you. Also Mr Fox by Barbara Comyns is set in the same period and a really super read. thanks so much for your excellent blog! Hannah

  3. I love epistolary fiction, and this one sounds good. I'm glad to know about it!

  4. Nymeth - Hope you enjoy it too, it is a fun collection of letters. And Congrats!! I am so happy to hear your news and hope I helped a bit. You are a perfect fit for the library world :)

    Hannah - thanks for the compliments, and for the recommendations. Both of those reads sound great, thanks for pointing them out.

    Dorothy - It was good - very much of its time and fascinating for that reason.

  5. I won a copy of "Henrietta's War" from Thomas at My Porch too. I found Henrietta kind of silly, which I didn't like, but I did really enjoy reading about life in Britian during the war.

  6. I also found this one sweet and charming. Identified with the way that Henrietta never quite got things right, never quite saw fit to make herself fit into a role someone else wrote for her.

  7. I have this and hopefully will get to read it eventually!

  8. Kimberly - Henrietta was a bit silly, but I think it allowed some slapstick type of humour popular in that era. Just an idea, don't have any examples to back it up! ;)

    Frances - I liked the interplay between all the different female characters, and how each was so individual. Plus Henrietta was not at all a stuffy doctor's wife.

    Marg - it is a good one to read bit by bit, when you need some amusement in between something more serious. Hope you will enjoy.

  9. I think I am the last person to read this--though I've had it since it first came out. I think I am saving it for a rainy day. I've yet to hear one bad thing about it!!


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