Hitler was thumbing his nose from just across the Channel, and London had decided to move the children out again, all the ones who had come back and all the ones who had never gone. This time Noel was going with them; once again, he hadn’t been consulted. Margery had packed his suitcase and Geoffrey had walked him round to Rhyll St Junior School like a prisoner under escort… When the whistle blew at St Pancras, he watched the guard slide backwards. The train moved from under the blacked-out roof and sunshine slapped him in the face…
‘We’re stopping at a station,’ said Doreen Ferris, excitedly. ‘We’re here.’
A big woman with a green hat and yellow teeth smiled brightly at them through the window.
‘Hello, little Londoners,’ she shouted. ‘Welcome to safety.’...
[Later] Vee paused with a plate in her hand, and stared out of the kitchen window as the children straggled past.
‘Vaccies,’ she said. ‘Did I tell you, I saw them in town this morning? They were sending them into the Mason’s Hall and that councillor with all the yellow hair who was so bloody – so rude to me last week, he was standing by the door, patting their heads as they went up the steps. Anything to get his picture in the paper.’ And nits, with any luck.
The children had been fresh off the train, then, excited and shrill; now only a very few were left unclaimed.
observations: I love books about the homefront in the UK in WW2, I love books about strange friendships between unlikely people, and I love the works of Lissa Evans: so this was the perfect book for me, and, yes - I loved it. I’ve been waiting impatiently for her to write another adult book (yes I know she won a prize for her children’s book, but that’s no good to ME is it?)
Evans wrote a couple of very good contemporary novels, and then came up with Their Finest Hour and a Half, a truly wondrous book about WW2, so it was great news that this one is set in the same era. I don’t know how she researched them, but I totally believe in her: if she says the aftermath of a raid ‘smelled of vinegar and fireworks’ then that is sure to be right.
Crooked Heart is charming (though totally unsentimental) and heart-breaking, and laugh out loud funny. Young Noel, not much wanted by anyone now his beloved godmother is dead, is evacuated to St Albans and taken in by Vee, mostly for the money. She is living on the breadline, and trying to make extra money by taking up fake collections. Noel turns out to be a surprising help to her in this, and the two of them trundle off to London regularly to knock on doors and try to make money.
There is a tremendously affecting scene where Noel is near to his old home, and tells Vee that he is being Mole in Wind in the Willows – ‘they walk past Mole’s house and he smells it, and he can’t bear not to go back and take a look at it.’ (This chapter in the Kenneth Grahame book appeared on the blog here.)
There’ll be another entry on Crooked Heart, one of the best new books I've read this year.
The picture shows evacuees in Wales.