Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Henrietta's War: News from the Home Front 1939-1942

Henrietta's War: News from the Home Front, 1939-1942. Joyce Dennys. 1985/2010. Bloomsbury. 176 pages.

October 18, 1939
My dear Robert,
It was good to get your letter and hear that you are in a 'perfectly safe place,' though I wonder how much of that is true and how much intended to allay the alarms of your Childhood's Friend. And why, when I and everybody else know that you are in France, must I address my letters to Berkshire? Well, well, I suppose They Know Best, and Ours Not to Reason Why, but I seem to remember that when I wrote to you in the last war I used to put "B.E.F., France," quite boldly on the envelope, thereby no doubt endangering the safety of the British Empire.

I have been wanting to read this book for a year or so now. And in many ways it did not disappoint. It's set in the country, in a small country village. The main character is Henrietta Brown, a doctor's wife. The book is told through a series of letters to her childhood-friend-now-a-soldier, Robert. The first book covers October 1939 through December 1941. (Yes, the cover says 1939-1942, but the truth is the last entry is dated December 31, 1941.) Many letters (or sketches, depending on how you want to view them) are accompanied by small black-and-white drawings. What does Henrietta write about? Well, life in the village, in the country. Everything from tea parties, church rumble sales, various "concerts," and other events--big and small--that concern everyday folk. Simple things like gardening, shopping, rationing, knitting, gossiping, etc.

The setting is definitely enjoyable. I was reminded of Agatha Christie, in a way, especially the Miss Marple series. Because these are set in a small country village, because the characters presented are so quirky. But there are no murders, no mysteries to solve. So the comparison isn't quite fair. I was also reminded, in a way, of Erma Bombeck. Though I admit it that is a bit of a stretch. It's just that Dennys' sketches of what it is like to live in a small country village, in a small community where everyone knows everyone's business, her focus on being a housewife, a mother, a 'good' neighbor and friend, well, it is the finding humor in the common, everyday dealings of life that made me think of Bombeck. True, the humor is sometimes more understated and subtle than Bombeck, but, there are many funny scenes in this one. Is the humor for everyone? Probably not. Some might fight it too quiet.

So I definitely liked it. I'm not exactly, exactly sure I loved it. I am very, very glad I read it. And I'd definitely recommend it to some of my friends. But if you're looking for action, action, more's not going to be for you.

Read Henrietta's War
  • If you like books set in England, especially if you like the period in which this is set, World War II
  • If you like epistolary novels 
  • If you like quirky characters and humor

© 2012 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Unknown said...

I like the method of telling the story through letters, and the way it conveys life at the time. Though I'm more of the 'blast 'em with magic bolts' kinda guy, it sounds like a good read :)

Marg said...

I have been meaning to read this book for ages! I love the way that the collection looks when you put them all together.

Kailana said...

I really want to read this!

hopeinbrazil said...

Thank you for highlighting this book. It definitely sounds like something I would enjoy.