Wednesday, May 27, 2015

WORLD WAR II BOOK LIST (5 of 6) (updated 5/15/2016)

5) Fiction: Retrospective (post-1950)

Fiction: Retrospective (published after 1950)

Thanks to everyone who made suggestions on part four of my list. I have several more books to read now because of you. Please do keep the suggestions coming, as this part undoubtedly needs your help as well.

It might seem odd at first to divide fiction set during World War II into that actually written during or immediately after the war and that written even just a few years later and on up to recent years. And perhaps it is just my own idiosyncrasy (please feel free to tell me if you think it’s just my book-addled brain getting carried away…).

But it does seem to me that there is a real difference in tone and perspective between those books which came directly out of the turmoils, traumas, and day-to-day realities of the war, and those which I’ve called retrospective, which seem to approach the war in a more reflective way, with the benefit of hindsight and knowledge of the outcome—which are, in some cases, even in the early 1950s, basically historical fiction re-imagining wartime life for their authors’ particular literary purposes, rather than tales primarily focused on uncertainty and survival. It’s hard to put one’s finger on exactly how these variations are reflected in the texts, but I imagine the same distinction applies to any historical event: books written during the Victorian period are certainly different from books of the 1940s which are merely set during Victoria’s reign (just think of the difference between Charlotte Yonge’s view of the Victorian family and Ivy Compton-Burnett’s!). 

It’s also hard to place a definite dividing line between retrospective works and those that are more immediate or direct. There are always grey areas. But 1950 seemed like a convenient line to draw. Certainly, Elizabeth Bowen’s The Heat of the Day, published in 1948, manages to capture an immediacy and urgency that’s already long lost by the time Olivia Manning tackles her distinctly historical Fortunes of War trilogies starting in 1960. And there are several important novels written during the war that were only published in the years after it ended, such as Marghanita Laski’s To Bed with Grand Music, Norah Hoult’s House Under Mars, and Stella Gibbons’ Westwood. If the line is to be drawn, it must be drawn somewhere, so, for this list, 1950 it is.

If you want to feel very overwhelmed very quickly by the vast array of more recent historical fiction set during World War II, have a gander at this site, which may give you lots of new reading material. For my purposes, however, this section of the list is limited to books by authors who qualify for my Overwhelming List (i.e., if you haven’t perused that list lately, British women who published fiction during the years 1910-1960). Thus, Elizabeth Jane Howard’s Cazalets series, the final volume of which only appeared in 2013, is listed here, while dozens of other titles published earlier than that but by younger authors are not included.

Elizabeth Jane Howard

This is certainly an idiosyncrasy that comes of my own interests: Because my main interest is in those authors who experienced these years first-hand, I’m interested in a 2013 novel by an author who began publishing in 1950, but not so much in a 1980 novel by an author who started publishing in 1975 (however marvelous the 1980 novel might be). An idiosyncrasy, for sure, but hopefully one that makes some kind of sense from the perspective of the heyday of the women’s middlebrow novel. And it certainly makes my list shorter and more manageable than it would otherwise have been (I couldn’t have fathomed attempting a list of all WWII-related novels, even just by British women writers—overwhelming indeed!).

On the other hand, since their author doesn’t qualify in any way, shape, or form for this list, I will take this opportunity to mention two of my very favorite books concerned with the World War II home front in Britain. Connie Willis is American, too young to have experienced the war first hand (born on New Year’s Eve, 1945), and only began publishing in the 1970s, but I couldn’t stop reading Blackout and All Clear (2010), her two epic novels (really one big giant novel) about several time travelling historians from 2060 who venture into the Blitz (and other hot spots of the war) for research purposes and find themselves trapped there by complications with their time portals and the laws of physics. There are some naysayers bothered by anachronisms and Americanisms in Willis’s portrayal of the war, but however true this might be (I’m probably not the best judge of either), it’s also true that they’re vivid and page-turning and probably did more to stir up interest in the home front among general readers than a dozen riveting Imperial War Museum exhibitions. So, I encourage you to read them, but they are not, of course, included in my list below.

Since the list is so short, it’s somewhat anti-climactic to choose my five favorites from this section (I’ve only read about 7 of the books shown, so the competition isn’t fierce), but what the hey, here they are:


BRYHER, Beowulf (1956)
OLIVIA MANNING, The Balkan Trilogy (1960-1965)
MURIEL SPARK, The Girls of Slender Means (1963)
GERALDINE SYMONS - Now and Then (1977, aka Crocuses Were Over, Hitler Was Dead)
LAURA TALBOT, The Gentlewomen (1952)

Bryher’s underrated novel—richly deserving of a reprint—is truly one of my favorites, while Symon’s book, a time slip tale about a lonely girl in a big country house who finds herself flickering back and forth between the dull present of the 1970s and the house’s far more eventful wartime past, has haunted me ever since I stumbled across it as a child. (And by the way, this is one of the only examples I know of where an American title is actually better than the British original. The crocuses in the novel are a kind of marker that allow the reader, as well as the girl herself, to realize which time she is in.) A part of me wouldn’t mind slipping back in time to the war years for a week or two, though I’d like to be terribly selective about the exact time and location of my slippage (and be more certain of the functionality of my portals than Connie Willis' historians can be)…

What am I missing this time around?

R E T R O S P E C T I V E   W O R K S

MABEL ESTHER ALLAN, Time to Go Back (1972)

Popular author’s tale of a young girl in Liverpool who travels back in time to witness her mother and aunt’s tragic past.

LUCILLA ANDREWS, One Night in London (1979)

LUCILLA ANDREWS, After a Famous Victory (1984)

LUCILLA ANDREWS, The Phoenix Syndrome (1987)

LUCILLA ANDREWS, Frontline 1940 (1990)

Pressured to remove wartime themes from her early novels, romance novelist Andrews returned to the war in these late works.

BERYL BAINBRIDGE, The Dressmaker (1973)

Set in Liverpool during the war, this novel focuses on a young woman living with her two aunts.

NINA BAWDEN, Carrie's War (1973)

Acclaimed children’s book about the evacuation of a young girl and her brother to a Welsh village during World War II and the effect their stay has on her later life.

ANN BRIDGE, A Place to Stand (1953)

ANN BRIDGE, The Tightening String (1962)

Popular novelist’s tales of Hungary in wartime.

BRYHER, Beowulf (1956)

Powerful “blitz lit” novel detailing the experiences of two women (perhaps not unlike Bryher and her partner, Hilda Doolittle, better known as H.D.) running a tea shop under harsh wartime constraints.

HESTER BURTON, In Spite of All Terror (1968)

Children’s novel set during wartime and featuring scenes of evacuation, bombings, and the Dunkirk evacuation.

BARBARA COMYNS, Mr. Fox (1987)

Set during the war and based on Comyns' own life after the breakup of her first marriage.

LETTICE COOPER, Fenny (1953)

Set before and after the war in Florence, which follows a young girl from her arrival in Italy as a governess through turbulent events both personal and political.

FANNY CRADOCK, Castle Rising series (1975-1985)

Eccentric chef and novelist’s popular series tracing a family’s fortunes, including the war years.

THERESA DE KERPELY (writing as Teresa Kay), A Crown of Ashes (1952)

Novel based on her wartime experiences living in Budapest, published pseudonymously to protect family members still living in Hungary.

RACHEL FERGUSON, Sea Front (1954)

Traces, in Ferguson's eccentric fashion, life in a seaside resort town before, during, and after WWII.

RUBY FERGUSON, The Wakeful Guest (1962)

Rather uninspired mystery/melodrama focused on a superficial young woman’s encounters with refugees of war.

HELEN FOLEY, A Handful of Time (1961)

A Book Society Choice that deals with two women, one British and one Austrian, from immediately before WWII until "its confused aftermath," set mostly at or in Cambridge, with occasional scenes in Austria.

SARAH GAINHAM, Night Falls on the City (1967)
SARAH GAINHAM, A Place in the Country (1968)
SARAH GAINHAM, Private Worlds (1971)

A trilogy. Night Falls was a bestseller and BOMC selection, set in Vienna during the war. The less acclaimed sequels are set, respectively, soon after the war has ended and in the early 1950s.

CATHERINE GAVIN, Traitors' Gate (1976)
CATHERINE GAVIN, None Dare Call It Treason (1978)
CATHERINE GAVIN, How Sleep the Brave (1980)

Historical novelist’s popular trilogy set in wartime Britain.

ELIZABETH JANE HOWARD, The Light Years (1990)
ELIZABETH JANE HOWARD, Marking Time (1991)

Howard’s Cazalet Chronicles, her best known and most popular works, which detail a family's experiences in wartime England.

PAMELA HANSFORD JOHNSON, The Survival of the Fittest (1968)

Novel tracing a group of friends through the war years.

MOLLY LEFEBURE, Blitz! (1988)

The one novel by the author of Evidence for the Crown (1954), a memoir of working in the London morgue during WWII, dramatized a few years ago as Murder on the Home Front.

ALICE LUNT, Tomorrow the Harvest (1955)

ALICE LUNT, Eileen of Redstone Farm (1964)

Children’s stories based on Lunt’s own experiences in the Women's Land Army during World War II.

OLIVIA MANNING, The Balkan Trilogy (1960-1965)

OLIVIA MANNING, The Levant Trilogy (1977-1980)

Two epic trilogies—dramatized for television as Fortunes of War—tracing a young married couple’s lives in the Eastern Europe and the Middle East during the war years.

ANNE MARRECO (writing as ALICE ACLAND), A Person of Discretion (1958)

About three sisters from Brussels who get mixed up with the black market and the Resistance movement late in World War II.

MARY RENAULT, The Charioteer (1953)

Early portrayal of gay men, dealing with a wounded soldier's triangular relationship with a conscientious objector and a naval officer while in a hospital in the midst of blackout and bombings.

DOROTHY EVELYN SMITH, He Went for a Walk (1954)

Children’s book in which a boy made homeless by the Blitz finds his way across wartime England.

MURIEL SPARK, The Girls of Slender Means (1963)

Takes place in a London boarding-house for girls during the final days of World War II.

D. E. STEVENSON, Amberwell (1955)

About a family and their staff in a country house before and during the war.

D. E. STEVENSON, Sarah Morris Remembers (1966)

Story of a woman looking back over her early life, from her childhood in a vicarage to the thick of the Blitz in London.

NOEL STREATFEILD, Beyond the Vicarage (1971)

Third volume of Streatfeild's fictionalized memoir, in which "Vicky" becomes an author and joins the WVS during the war.

NOEL STREATFEILD, When the Sirens Wailed (1974)

Children's fiction in which Streatfeild returns to her wartime experiences.

GERALDINE SYMONS - Now and Then (1977, published in the U.S. as Crocuses Were Over, Hitler Was Dead)

A time-slip story of a girl moving with her family to a country estate and occasionally slipping back into World War II when she befriends a gardener and his dog from those earlier years.

LAURA TALBOT, The Gentlewomen (1952)

Novel focused on the disruptions of class identity brought about by World War II.

GILLIAN TINDALL, The Intruder (1979)

Novel about a young Englishwoman and her son stuck in occupied France during World War II.

Friday, May 22, 2015

AGATHA CHRISTIE, Passenger to Frankfurt (1970)

I really need to come up with more excuses for blogging about Agatha Christie. She is anything but "lesser-known," but it's a fun change of pace to write about an author that many of you have actually read (and some of you probably know more about than I do) rather than the ones I usually write about, which most people have never heard of. It's also fun because, officially, as of a few days ago, I have now read every single novel by dear Dame Agatha, making her probably my most-read author. I started reading her when I was about 10 or 11 and have been reading and re-reading ever since.

So why, you might ask, has it taken me so long to get through all of her novels? Apart from the fact that there are 60+ of them, of course, but that's not the real reason. I had read all but two or three of them at least 10 years ago. The real reason is twofold. First, for several years I delayed reading Hercule Poirot's Christmas (aka Murder for Christmas, aka A Holiday for Murder) because it was my last remaining Poirot and I couldn't bear the thought of being absolutely positively finished with them.

And then there was Passenger to Frankfurt. Ugh. (And by the way, the other reason it's fun to write about Dame Agatha is that I can be as snarky and harsh as I need to be without ever losing sight of the fact that she's permanently a part of who I am and one of my most loved authors.)

So, cue snarkiness…

I've attempted to read Passenger to Frankfurt several times over the years and have never been able to finish. But last week, I picked up my snazzy new hardcover copy from the book sale, with its reader-friendly type and nice thick high-quality paper, and I made one final attempt. This time I persevered, and I'm happy to report that I finally finished it. True, my happiness stems mainly from the fact that I shall never again feel obligated to pick it up again for any reason other than to admire its appearance. But it's happiness nevertheless.

What challenges book designers must have had in deciding what to portray
on the cover of a book with no discernible (or at least comprehensible) plot!

Because I have to say, in my own opinion, this is truly not only the worst of Dame Agatha's novels; it's probably one of the worst novels ever published. It's the tale of a global conspiracy—of some sort—and the people who are trying to combat it—in some way—and save it from the bad guys—sort of. Oh, and by the way, apropos of nothing, it emerges that Hitler snuck out of Germany at the end of the war and has been living in South America. It's unclear what connection, if any, this has to do with the main plot here (whatever that might be), but hey, Hitler is scary, is he not? So why not toss him in?

There's a silly but funny line from Neil Simon's movie The Cheap Detective, a parody of classic movies like Casablanca and The Maltese Falcon. In one scene, the Ingrid Bergman-ish leading lady is pontificating at length about freedom and various other noble sentiments, and when she walks away, Peter Falk's character says, "There, gentlemen, goes a brave, beautiful, and extremely boring woman." This is relevant only because it occurs to me to say that the conspiracy Christie portrays in Passenger to Frankfurt is terrifying, diabolical, and extremely silly. There are people, and they are organizing, and causing unrest, and—basically—thereby causing distress to elderly British people reading the newspaper every day, who find it all a bit bewildering and wonder what the world is coming to.

Here's one of the clearer explanations of what's going on:

"Youth is what you might call the spearhead of it all. But that's not really what's so worrying. They—whoever they are—work through youth. Youth in every country. Youth urged on. Youth chanting slogans—slogans that sound exciting, though they don't always know what they mean. So easy to start a revolution. That's natural to youth. All youth has always rebelled. You rebel, you pull down, you want  the world to be different from what it is. But you're blind, too. There are bandages over the eyes of youth. They can't see where things are taking them. What's going to come next? What's in front of them? And who it is behind them, urging them on? That's what's frightening about it. You know, someone holding out the carrot to get the donkey to come along and at the same time there is someone behind the donkey urging it on with a stick."

There. Now we know where we stand, don't we? What? You're still not clear on the plot? Well, perhaps this will help:

"It's quite simple," said Mr. Robinson. "There are big movements afoot. There has to be money behind them. We've got to find out where that money's coming from. Who's operating with it? Where do they get it from? Where are they sending it to? Why? It's quite true what James says: I know a lot about money! As much as any man alive knows today. Then there are what you might call trends. It's a word we use a good deal nowadays! Trends or tendencies—there are innumerable words one uses. They mean not quite the same thing, but they're in relationship with each other. A tendency, shall we say, to rebellion shows up. Look back through history. You'll find it coming again and again, repeating itself like a periodic table, repeating a pattern. A desire for rebellion. A feeling for rebellion, the means of rebellion, the form the rebellion takes. It's not a thing particular to any particular country. If it arises in one country, it will arise in other countries in less or more degrees.

Um. Sure. Quite simple.

According to the novel's Wikipedia page, Robert Barnard, a well-known mystery writer in his own right, wrote of Passenger:

The last of the thrillers, and one that slides from the unlikely to the inconceivable and finally lands up in incomprehensible muddle. Prizes should be offered to readers who can explain the ending. Concerns the youth uproar of the 'sixties, drugs, a new Aryan superman and so on, subjects of which Christie's grasp was, to say the least, uncertain (she seems to have the oddest idea of what the term 'Third World' means, for example). Collins insisted she subtitle the book 'An Extravaganza.' One can think of other descriptions."

(The "third world" thing is rather funny. Christie seems to have believed it was something akin to the Third Reich.)

This artist apparently thought the book's
cover needed some spicing up with an
utterly irrelevant spider

Inexplicably, though, Maurice Richardson in the Observer said that although Passenger wasn't Christie's best work it was "very far from her worst." Seriously? Even allowing for the fact that different readers seek different things from a mystery or thriller, I defy anyone to tell me which Christie novels could possibly be worse.

Certainly, there are daft plots in some of her other books. For example, the method of killing in Death in the Clouds would have worked (without being seen, at least) in about 1 out of 2,000 attempts. And the one in Murder in Mesopotamia isn't even as viable as that. Then, there are one or two mysteries dealing with teenage delinquency that I personally find a bit tedious. And there are a couple that, like Passenger, feature large criminal organizations, and even in earlier years it's clear that Christie didn't possess a clear understanding of how such an organization might logically work. But none of these approach, to my mind, the level of repetitive meaninglessness of Passenger to Frankfurt.

That said, however, I momentarily felt less snarky after I also learned from Wikipedia that there have apparently been scientific studies of the vocabulary and repetition in Christie's late novels as compared to her earlier work, which have concluded that Christie was likely suffering from Alzheimer's or some variant form of disability. Which seems a viable explanation (I recall being bewildered by Iris Murdoch's final novel even before the announcement was made about her Alzheimer's) and also makes me feel sad for the wonderful Dame Agatha and her family in those final years.

Dame Agatha in 1972, two years after publication of Passenger to Frankfurt

What's odd, however, is that Passenger was not, in fact, the last novel Christie completed. Two more followed: Elephants Can Remember, the last Poirot—along with a final guest appearance from Ariadne Oliver—that Christie wrote (Curtain is the last case, but was written much earlier), and Postern of Fate, the final Tommy & Tuppence novel. Now, I'm willing to bet that neither of these are on very many Christie readers' Top 10 lists, but I would place both well up the list from Passenger.

They are both similarly meandering and repetitive (perhaps not unlike this post), but in Postern of Fate particularly (it's been a while since I read Elephants, so I don't recall it so well), this aimless rambling actually fits rather nicely the story being told. I might even go so far as to claim that Postern, which involves T&T stumbling across a long-forgotten crime as a result of Tuppence's absent-minded perusals of old books, has the effect (if undoubtedly not the intent) of a rather humorous postmodern meditation on old age and decreasing faculties. T&T have repetitive conversations, wander aimlessly about the house and village, and even, at one rather embarrassing point, mention their adopted daughter in an explanatory way—as in, Tuppence says to Tommy, "So-and-so, our adopted daughter, wrote in her letter…" Would he be likely to need that sort of clarification, one wonders? Had he forgotten they adopted a child? Well, who knows?

This wise designer played it safe with one of the
few absolutely certain things about the novel's
plot--the characters do indeed travel from point
to point, though for what purpose is unknown...

But even so, if I were looking for a purely cozy, comforting, and enjoyable Christie to read on a cold rainy day, and I didn't care much about having a clever puzzle to disentangle, Postern of Fate might well be my choice. I've read it two or three times, and even thinking of it is making me want to read it again (an impulse that will surely never arise in regard to Passenger). T&T in later years are just so charming and loving and happy together that they are irresistible, doddering and dithering as they might be.

Which suggests that my problem with Passenger to Frankfurt is not so much to be explained by the fact that Christie might have been in poor health when she was writing it, as it is by the fact that she was attempting to write a spy novel that she was completely unequipped to write. It wasn't Alzheimer's or general old age that made Passenger a train wreck. It was bad authorial judgment.

Ahhhh, snarkiness is fun. And just for some icing on the cake, one more inspiringly brilliant quotation from Passenger:

"Where are we going? Can I ask?"

"You can ask, yes."

"But you do not reply."

"I could reply. I could tell you things, but would they mean anything?"

In the context of this novel, it's difficult to imagine that they would.

Monday, May 18, 2015

WORLD WAR II BOOK LIST (4 of 6) (updated 5/15/2016)

If some justification was required in my intros to the last two sections of this list for dividing up fiction about the war into two sections, it seems to me that little is necessary for creating a separate list for fiction about the immediate postwar period. This period, extending from hours or days after the declaration of peace until as long as a decade or more later, seems to me to quite clearly have its own very distinct feel. Some of it is more cheerful about the arrival of peace, some is more melancholy about what has been lost or damaged, and some is more pensive about the process of rebuilding. But almost all of these works combine those three themes to some extent, and they're often quite fascinating in revealing the mood and moodiness of a society in recovery from a major trauma.

That said, however, I must admit that this section of my list (as well as the next) feels woefully inadequate to me, and I am relying on all of you brilliant readers to help me flesh it out. Contemporary reviews or jacket blurbs will almost always mention if a book is set during the war, but they may very well make no mention at all of the use of bombed-out-buildings as symbolic of the characters' state of mind, or of the fact that the romantic difficulties of a postwar couple stem in part from the traumas both husband and wife may have faced in the preceding years. So what I have here are merely the titles I was able to identify from my own reading or from descriptions of the books that I've come across. I'm sure there are numerous oversights from this section of the list. (Hint, hint...)

Of course, not all fiction published in the years immediately after the war is included in this list. There were those writers who tended to erase the war from their works the moment it ended. Indeed, some writers, such as Agatha Christie, erased the war entirely from their works even while it was actually happening (with the exception, in Christie's case, of N or M?, which I included in section 3), and continued to do so, for the most part, after war had ended (with the one exception listed below).

Rumer Godden

Thus, I've only included on this list those works that make use of specifically postwar-related themes or attitudes—ongoing rationing, returning soldiers and the readjustments they necessitate, bombed-out buildings, the rise of child delinquency among traumatized or orphaned children, and similar topics. Sometimes, admittedly, it's more a general ambience in a book, of disillusionment, perhaps, or of hardship, whether handled cheerfully or not, but usually there are at least some specific mentions of the above themes or others like them.

A genuinely ghastly cover for one of my favorites

Although this is a relatively short section of the list, it still wasn't at all easy choosing my top five…


RUMER GODDEN, An Episode of Sparrows (1955)
MARGHANITA LASKI, The Village (1952)
ROSE MACAULAY, The World My Wilderness (1950)
BARBARA PYM, Excellent Women (1952)
DOROTHY WHIPPLE, Someone at a Distance (1953)

Alas, I had to leave out another of my favorite Stella Gibbons novels, The Matchmaker, which so beautifully captures the days immediately following the war's end. And I know that many readers would shudder at the thought that I'm leaving out Mollie Panter-Downes' One Fine Day, which is more intimately concerned with the days immediately following the outbreak of peace than almost any other novel I can recall—but I have discussed here before my difficulties in engaging with that novel, so until I can attempt it again and hope for more success this time around, the well-deserved inclusion of Panter-Downes' wartime stories in my previous top five will have to suffice.

At any rate, I certainly couldn't leave out two brilliant works about the scars of children who have survived the war—Rumer Godden's An Episode of Sparrows and Rose Macaulay's The World My Wilderness. Nor could I leave out Marghanita Laski's The Village, so charmingly concerned with the class shifts that the war has stirred up but certainly not resolved, or Dorothy Whipple's Someone at a Distance, so elegantly focused on the breakup of a happy marriage with all the remnants of war very much present throughout. And of Barbara Pym's Excellent Women, in which churchgoers are still attending services in a bomb-damaged church, what is there to say except that it's a classic?

What other postwar works can you brilliant readers think of?

I M M E D I A T E   P O S T W A R

HELEN ASHTON, The Half-Crown House (1956)

Very much a novel about a house, with lush details of its past and present, it's also a novel about the scars the war has left behind.

KITTY BARNE, Musical Honours (1947)

Family tale about musical children just after the end of the war; their father returns home from being a prisoner of war.

CHRISTIANNA BRAND, Death of Jezebel (1948)

Mystery novel which evokes the postwar feel of London just after the war.

BRIDGET CHETWYND, Death Has Ten Thousand Doors (1951)

BRIDGET CHETWYND, Rubies, Emeralds and Diamonds (1952)

Two mystery novels featuring Petunia Best, an ex-WAAF who teams up with a former intelligence officer to form a detective agency.

AGATHA CHRISTIE, Taken at the Flood (1948)

The one Poirot novel to (briefly) feature the war; in the opening, we see Poirot experiencing an air raid while at his club.

EILEEN HELEN CLEMENTS, Weathercock (1949)

Clements' series detective and his wife return to the home they had lent to refugees during the war, to find a "library book with interesting sketches inside."

JOAN COCKIN, Curiosity Killed the Cat (1947)

Mystery set in a Cotswold village just after World War II, having to do with the Ministry of Scientific Research, which was set up there in wartime but has lingered into peacetime.

GWENDOLINE COURTNEY, Sally's Family (1946)

Charming novel about a young girl trying to make a home for her five orphaned siblings, who have been evacuated to different families during the war and have developed very different personalities.

MONICA DICKENS, The Happy Prisoner (1946)

Deals with a wounded soldier trying to adapt to life after war.

JOSEPHINE ELDER, Doctor's Children (1954)

Focuses on an abandoned wife and mother who revives her career as a doctor in the years just after the war, when the National Health Service is just beginning.

RUBY FERGUSON, Our Dreaming Done (1946)

Romantic melodrama about a war widow feeling smothered by life with her upper-crust in-laws.

PAMELA FRANKAU, The Willow Cabin (1949)

With sections set before, during, and after the war, Frankau's lovely novely set in and around the theatre qualifies for two sections of this list.

STELLA GIBBONS, The Matchmaker (1949)

Set immediately after the war, the heroine is still living with her children in the house to which they were evacuated, and waiting for her husband to return from Germany.

RUMER GODDEN, An Episode of Sparrows (1955)

Powerful tale of children in the postwar, making powerful use of the bombed-out buildings of London.

ELIZABETH GOUDGE, Pilgrims' Inn (1948, aka The Herb of Grace)

Second volume of the Eliots trilogy, set immediately after the end of the war.

JOSEPHINE KAMM, Peace, Perfect Peace (1947)

One of Kamm's few novels for adults, recommended for this list by Ann, a reader of this blog.

BARBARA KAYE, Black Market Green (1950)

I have no specifics, but I'm guessing from the title that it belongs on this list.

MARGARET KENNEDY, The Feast (1950)

One of Kennedy’s best novels, about a doomed hotel and its residents, which makes vivid use of postwar conditions.

MARGHANITA LASKI, Tory Heaven (1948, aka Toasted English)

Rollicking satire of the class system, about a group of castaways rescued after the war, who find the old class distinctions now codified as law.

MARGHANITA LASKI, Little Boy Lost (1949)

Novel about a father searching for his missing son in France immediately after the war.

MARGHANITA LASKI, The Village (1952)

Wonderful novel about the aftermath of the war's breakdown of class relations, in the form of two families reluctantly united by marriage.

ROSAMOND LEHMANN, The Echoing Grove (1953)

Elegant novel of the postwar, including flashbacks to the Blitz and wartime conditions.

ROSE MACAULAY, The World My Wilderness (1950)

Lovely story of Barbary, a young girl who spent her youth with the Maquis (French resistance guerillas) in occupied France and must now adapt to normal life among the ruins of London.

CECILY MACKWORTH, In the Mouth of the Sword (1949)

Journalistic work about the Middle East in the aftermath of the war.

ADELAIDE MANNING (w. Cyril Henry Coles, as Manning Coles), A Brother for Hugh (1947, aka With Intent to Deceive)

Postwar skullduggery involving former Nazis.

OLIVIA MANNING, Artist Among the Missing (1949)

Novel about a painter scarred by his war experiences.

OLIVIA MANNING, Growing Up (1948)

Includes several stories written during and immediately after the war; in particular, "Twilight of the Gods," set in 1946, evokes the exhaustion of the immediate postwar.


Novel that evokes Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway in lushly detailing a single ordinary day in the life of a woman immediately after the end of the war.

MOLLIE PANTER-DOWNES, Minnie's Room: The Peacetime Stories (2002)

Follow-up to Good Morning, Mrs. Craven, including additional New Yorker stories published after the war.

EDITH PARGETER, Lost Children (1951)

About a young girl from an impoverished aristocratic family who falls in love with a serviceman stationed nearby.

EDITH PARGETER, Means of Grace (1956)

Novel about a young soprano, living in England since the war, who returns at war's end to her Baltic nation and witnesses turmoil and the beginnings of the Cold War.

SHEILA PIM, Creeping Venom (1946)

Charming and funny mystery set in an Irish village, set in the final days of the war and the gradual return of peace.

VIRGINIA PYE, The Prices Return (1946)

Follows the Price family from some of Pye’s earlier works into the postwar, facing housing dilemmas and other challenges.

BARBARA PYM, Excellent Women (1952)

Pym's most famous work, a humorous tale set in and around a village church in the years immediately after the war.

MARY RENAULT, The North Face (1948)

Novel which, according to Jenny Hartley, takes the main character's predilection for rock-climbing as a symbol for life in the postwar years.

MARGERY SHARP, The Foolish Gentlewoman (1948)

Follows the inhabitants and neighbors of a country estate as they return home after the war.

STEVIE SMITH, The Holiday (1949)

Written in the final years of the war, but most wartime references were removed when it finally appeared. The novel retains a claustrophibic feel which may be explained if one imagines it taking place late in the war.

NANCY SPAIN, The Kat Strikes (1955)

An energetic, darkly humorous thriller set in postwar London and making use of its characters’ wartime experiences.

D. E. STEVENSON, Mrs. Tim Gets a Job (1947)

Postwar entry in Stevenson's popular Mrs. Tim series (and therefore a sequel of sorts to Mrs. Tim Carries On.

D. E. STEVENSON, Kate Hardy (1947)

Set in the immediate postwar years, about a young writer in an English village.

D. E. STEVENSON, Young Mrs. Savage (1948)

About a young widow with four children, recovering from the war in a Scottish village.

D. E. STEVENSON, Vittoria Cottage (1949)

A novel of family life in an English village in the years just after the war.

D. E. STEVENSON, Summerhills (1956)

Sequel to Amberwell (see part 5 of this list), traces the Ayrton family into the postwar years and includes the setting up of a boys' school.

NOEL STREATFEILD, Poppies for England (1946)

One of Streatfeild’s Susan Scarlett romances, set just after the end of the war.

ELIZABETH TAYLOR, A View of the Harbour (1947)

After erasing the war entirely from her second novel Palladium, Taylor presented an atmospheric glimpse of postwar life in this work.

JOSEPHINE TEY, The Franchise Affair (1948)

Non-series mystery that contains frequent mentions of the war and of postwar conditions.

ANGELA THIRKELL, Peace Breaks Out (1946)

Barsetshire chronicle tracing the transition from war back to peace in village life.

ANGELA THIRKELL, Private Enterprise (1947)

ANGELA THIRKELL, Love Among the Ruins (1948)

Subsequent Barsetshire entries, very much detailing postwar conditions.

SYLVIA THOMPSON, The People Opposite (1948)

Deals lightly with two postwar families, among whom is a young invalided soldier trying to get back in the swing of things after a long hospitalization.

MARY TREADGOLD, No Ponies (1946)

Children's story about France just after the war, tackling the very adult issue of Nazi collaborators.

MARY TREADGOLD, The Polly Harris (1949)

Sequel to We Couldn't Leave Dinah, following that book's children into the postwar years.

PATRICIA WENTWORTH, The Traveller Returns (aka She Came Back) (1945)

Mystery which follows the drama when a woman believed to be dead in the war returns home after three years.

PATRICIA WENTWORTH, The Case of William Smith (1948)

Mystery featuring prominently a returning soldier with amnesia.

DOROTHY WHIPPLE, Someone at a Distance (1953)

Whipple’s final novel and masterpiece, highly evocative of the postwar years as well as recalling the characters' wartime experiences.

ESTHER TERRY WRIGHT, The Prophet Bird (1958)

Novel about a middle-class couple struggling in the postwar years.

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