Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Crooked Heart by Lissa Evans

published 2014, set in Second World War







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.

10 comments:

  1. The kind of book I would probably enjoy if I ever read, which to be truthful is unlikely. Great photo. My wife's grandmother had a few child evacuees to care for during the war.

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    1. If it turns up, read it. The whole evacuee thing is so unimaginable now - no safety checks, children just launched into a new life for better or worse.

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  2. Moira - This does sound like a terrific look at life at home during the war. And the background context - the evacuation program - is a fascinating piece of history. I like Evans' writing style too. It's matter-of-fact without being blunt.

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    1. Very good description Margot - there's nothing fancy about her style, but I think the writing is wonderful. And it's an interesting bit of history.

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  3. I must read both these books. I know I'll like them. There is something particularly fascinating about books set in WW2 - maybe in part because my parents were growing up then. Your blog has been a great find for me, Moira, and my reading list grows ever longer!

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    1. What kind words Chrissie - and I feel the same about your blog and recos. And yes, books about the homefront are fascinating aren't they? I liked Sarah Waters' Night Watch, but not the backwards structure, I wished it had been done in chronological order.

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  4. Moira, I know I'll like this book if I read it. I have read about German air raids over London and elsewhere but not about its aftermath and how people coped with it. Those must have been terrifying days and nights.

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    1. Yes, it was a dramatic time. My own family lived in Liverpool, also a major target, and my grandmother's house was bombed. They had to move elsewhere, though luckily no-one was injured.

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  5. Evans' books about WW2 do sound good; definitely the time period and place I am interested in. After reading Wartime Britain 1939-1945 by Gardiner, I find that type of settting even more enjoyable. Will have to add it to my list.

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    1. Yes, I know you like books with that setting - I think you will like this one.

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