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.


  1. Of course, Scott, I am happy to see Christie's "Taken at the Flood," (God, I love that book!) Thirkell's "Peace Breaks Out," and Wentworth's' "The Case of William Smith," but I am tentatively submitting to you Wentworth's "She Came Back," published in 1945, about a young woman taken for dead, and returning from occupied France - to varying degrees of welcome. Need I add, Miss SIlver clears everything up!
    I sort of agree about the Whipple cover, but it's SO odd as to be cool, eh?

    1. Thank you, Tom! For some reason, I put that one on the Thick of It list, but it clearly belongs here instead. Thanks for catching that.

  2. Peace, Perfect Peace by Josephine Kamm might be one for this list.

  3. Okay, Scott dear, I have to pop in here with the DES post-war books. Yes, of course, she wrote lots of books after the war, but I think we can nail down four of them as being books about people coping with the new post-war realities and austerity and getting back to "normal."
    Mrs. Tim Gets a Job (1947)
    Kate Hardy (1947)
    Young Mrs. Savage (1948)
    Vittoria Cottage (1949)
    (Also Summerhills, but it was written in the 1950s, and may come in with your Looking Back list)

    1. Excellent, Susan, I was certainly hoping that one or two DESsies would chime in to flesh out the list. Can't imagine how I left off the Mrs Tim, which I love. Please do chime in on the Looking Back list as well (obviously that's the name I should have given it). I've read mostly early DES, so will be missing some the

    2. re too! [Just a little comment mishap there...]

  4. The foolish gentlewoman by Margery Sharp would definitely fit on this list.

    1. Of course, Lynaia, thanks so much for reminding me!

  5. I particularly like Young Mrs Savage, recommended by Susan.

    There's another Mary Treadgold post-war book: No Ponies, published 1946. A different family go to France to stay with their cousins.

    1. Thank you, I will add that one to the list. So exciting to be getting so many new-to-me recommendations!

  6. Think you also need to add 'Sally's Family' by Gwendoline Courtney - blurb: When the War ends, Sally has to set up home for her five brothers and sisters, orphaned by the War, and separated by evacuation ... [reprinted by Girls Gone By, so relatively easily available]

    1. And one of my favorites, which I even reviewed here and singled out for its postwar interest! How could I forget?! But thank you for reminding me!

  7. I have been away for several days with no internet access, so I see that Susan D has provided the same Post War DES titles I would have. I seem to remember more of Agatha Christie's books dealing with post war issues, but can't remember which ones and if they were in the 40's or 50's. I must put in a word for Manning Coles. (Duo of authors, one female one male.) Many of their post war books involve attempts to round up escaped Nazi's, but perhaps the one that fits the post war issues theme the most if A Brother For Hugh (US title, With Intent to Deceive) Published in 1947, the main character missed the war due to being in a reserved occupation, as well as under the thumb of his parents. After the war he learns that he has money, but struggles to build a life for himself, until ex-Nazi crooks and murder and more shake up his life. Give it a try.

    I also find it interesting how post war issues can reside in a book that seems to be without them. Madam Will You Talk, by Mary Stewart, published in 1955 refers to the still present meat shortages and rationing in England by showing young English women's shock at being served nice steak when on holiday in France, but it is so subtle that I didn't figure it out till other reading taught me that food rationing lasted into the 50's in England.

    Thanks for the nice list and lovely cover art.


    1. Thank you Jerri. I'll undoubtedly need more DESsie help on the next section of the list. I'll also add the Manning Coles.

      I know I've read innumerable books that mention rationing and empty lots where bombs dropped, etc. The trick is remembering them afterward and singling out those where it's more than a passing mention. I always mark even the briefest mention now, but I know I'm forgetting many that I read previously.


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