published 2006 section set in 1944 chapter 2
‘Helen!’ Helen heard somebody call above the snarl of traffic on the Marylebone Road. ‘Helen! Over here!’
She turned her head and saw a woman in a blue jeans jacket and dungarees, rather filthy at the knee, with her hair done up in a dusty turban. The woman was smiling, and had lifted her hand. ‘Helen!’ she called again, beginning to laugh.
‘Julia!’ said Helen, at last. She crossed the road. ‘I didn’t recognize you!’
‘I’m not surprised. I must look like a chimney-sweep, do I?’
‘Well, a little.’
Julia got up. She’d been sitting in the sun, on a stump of wall. She had a Gladys Mitchell novel in one hand and a cigarette in the other: now she took a hasty final draw on the cigarette and threw it away.
observations: Another woman in trousers, as featured on the Guardian Books Blog recently.
When CiB featured Night Watch before, there were a couple of interesting comments, which were plainly correct, GOOD comments because they agreed with what I thought. We all loved Sarah Waters’s writing, but found the reverse structure of this book unsatisfactory. One contributor said ‘I felt a bit flat afterwards. It seemed more a series of vignettes than a whole story’, which summed it up well. But the book IS beautifully written, and does a wonderful job of creating an atmosphere. The description of moving through the blitz at night would alone make the whole book worth reading.
Julia in the book writes detective fiction herself: Gladys Mitchell is a real writer who has featured on the blog before – she was a prolific producer of murder stories, at least a book a year, and 1944’s was called My Father Sleeps. Did the BBC props team find that one for the 2011 film of the book?
Links on the blog: Gladys Mitchell here and here, the Second World War from a more European perspective in this book, and a more Irish perspective here. And Noel Streatfeild’s children are living in wartime London and worrying about their clothes.
The picture is from the US Library of Congress collection, and shows an American woman working for the war effort.