Tag Archives: The Blitz

#BookReview ‘The Camomile Lawn’ by Mary Wesley #WW2

It’s many years since I first read The Camomile Lawn by Mary Wesley. I remember liking it, and that one of the characters is called Calypso, but nothing else. So it was with delight that I read the wartime story of Calypso and her four cousins – Oliver, Polly, Walter and Sophy. It renewed my intention to re-read all Wesley’s novels. Mary Wesley

The story is enrichened by the mode of telling. It starts in Cornwall in the summer of 1939 as the cousins of assorted ages gather for what will be the last time. There is a poignancy hanging in the air as the run their ritual race, The Terror Run, along the clifftop path, joined by their neighbours, the Floyer twins.

The cousins are the children of the three Cuthbertson siblings – we see the parents only fleetingly, if not at all – but they are gathered at their Uncle Richard’s house and picnic on the camomile lawn. What follows are the piecemeal stories of individuals and how they overlap with each other as the war progresses. Overlaid, are short passages from the Eighties as they travel independently to Cornwall for a funeral. Drawn into the cousins’ stories are their neighbours, in Cornwall and London, wartime acquaintances, lovers, and refugees Max and Monika. Amidst the bombings, the rationing and the worries about loved ones fighting, Wesley tells a story of a family both united and separated, as individuals strike out on their own, liberated by wartime urgencies. There are affairs, unexpected babies, hints of underage sex, all without accusations of blame or betrayal. Each makes assumptions about the others, assumptions the reader may know are misplaced given we are privileged to see into the minds of each cousin, and sometimes assumptions which are proven right or wrong only at the very end of the novel.

Paths cross, diverge and cross again. Not everyone is nice, not everyone is honest. They are people getting through the war, trying to keep things together; some turn to drink and partying, one keeps guinea pigs, most feel emboldened by the openings presented to them by war. And all the time, fear lurks in the pit of their stomachs. And through it all, the house in Cornwall and memories of that last party on the camomile lawn, remind us of pre-war normality. At a time when ‘normal’ ceases to exist.

Very different from other wartime novels. Now a classic.

Read the First Paragraph of The Camomile Lawn here.

If you like this, try:-
‘The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society’ by Mary Ann Shaffer & Annie Barrows
Half of the Human Race’ by Antony Quinn
My Dear, I Wanted to Tell You’ by Louisa Young 

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THE CAMOMILE LAWN by Mary Wesley #bookreview https://wp.me/p5gEM4-48g via @SandraDanby

Great Opening Paragraph 129 ‘The Paying Guests’ #amwriting #FirstPara

“The Barbers had said they would arrive by three. It was like waiting to begin a journey, Frances thought. She and her mother had spent the morning watching the clock, unable to relax. At half past two she had gone wistfully over the rooms for what she’d supposed was the final time; after that there had been a nerving-up, giving way to a steady deflation, and now, at almost five, here she was again, listening to the echo of her own footsteps, feeling so sort of fondness for the sparsely furnished spaces, impatient simply for the couple to arrive, move in, get it over with.”
‘The Paying Guests’ by Sarah Waters Sarah WatersBUY THE BOOK

Try one of these 1st paras & discover a new author:-
Jane Eyre’ by Charlotte Bronte
Personal’ by Lee Child
Perfume’ by Patrick Suskind

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#FirstPara THE PAYING GUESTS  by Sarah Waters #amwriting https://wp.me/p5gEM4-4eA via @SandraDanby

#BookReview ‘Noonday’ by Pat Barker #WW2 #literary

It seems inevitable that the final novel in a trilogy which started with the Great War should end with the Blitz, and that the theme should be death. Death, grief, guilt at being alive, guilt at longing for death, and guilt at wishing another dead. Noonday is a fitting end to the ‘Life Class’ trilogy by Pat Barker, the tale of three young artists – Elinor Brooke, Paul Tarrant and Kit Neville – which started on the verge of the Great War in Life Class, and continued through the war in Toby’s Room. But although the context is war, there are a lot of other things going on. Pat BarkerThe story opens with Elinor at the country home of her mother, who is dying. The assorted relatives wait, in the scorching heat, for death to arrive. Also present is Kenny, an evacuee sent from London to avoid death by bombing. So, the shadow of death is present from the very first page. Don’t forget about Kenny, he is important, particularly in the impact he has on Paul Tarrant – now Elinor’s husband. Paul’s connection with this sorry out-of-place boy leads him to a meeting with a medium, Bertha Mason. This is a story thread criticised by some readers as being irrelevant – and perhaps it is in that it doesn’t connect with either Elinor or Kit – but for me it falls within the theme of grief in war when it is common to not see the body of your loved one. Death, in war, surrounds everyone daily, is expected daily, but is not easier to accept. Perhaps it is understandable that in these circumstances, without a body to bury, communicating with ghosts becomes popular.
As with Life Class and Toby’s Room, the lives of the three protagonists are entwined like snakes. Elinor and Kit are London ambulance drivers, Paul is an air raid warden by night and official war artist by day. The Blitz is the fourth character on the page. The final third of the book is an intense description of the firebombing of the City, an experience which Barker describes with simplicity, urgency, and not a spare word.
Barker is one of my favourite living authors because she writes with such detail about small things, seemingly insignificant ordinary things, but which in her hands and in the context of her story, add layers of meaning. She pays equal attention to the lives of her three main protagonists, the interaction of their lives, and how their desires and motivations impact on each other. She does not step away from sharing an unpleasant thought or action, she tells it as it is, and for this she is a clear voice in a modern world of fiction in which characters often seem too ‘nice’. But that is not realistic and it is not Pat Barker’s way.

Click the title to read my reviews of the first two novels of the trilogy:-

If you like this, try:-
‘Mrs Sinclair’s Suitcase’ by Louise Walters
‘The Paying Guests’ by Sarah Waters
‘Midnight in Europe’ by Alan Furst

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NOONDAY by Pat Barker #bookreview via @SandraDanby http://wp.me/p5gEM4-1Rf