Rachel Brand's Reviews > Good Evening, Mrs Craven: The Wartime Stories of Mollie Panter-Downes

Good Evening, Mrs Craven by Mollie Panter-Downes
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Jun 11, 12

bookshelves: wwii, en4413, short-stories, 2011
Read on October 20, 2011

I didn't completely finish this collection as someone else at the library requested it, but from what I read I've give it 3.5*.

1. Date with Romance - This was a rather anti-climatic start to the collection, I can't say it particularly interested me. It seems rather different in tone from any of the other stories I've read so far. 6/10

2. Meeting at the Pringles' - All the politeness and organisation that you'd expect from a story about women working together for the war effort. What makes this story stand out so much is the line towards the end of the story in which the author describes the characters as being "happier, as a matter of fact, than they had been for twenty-one years". It links in very well with Elizabeth Berridge's 'Subject for a Sermon', in which the protagonist's son accuses women of not wanting to stop a war, but be organising it. 7/10

3. Mrs Ramsay's War - I found this story particularly interesting, showing the tension between families as they shared homes together in the country to avoid the blitz in London. The focus on the trivial issues the upper classes suffered from in these stories comes across as light-hearted, but I imagine a lot of people were in for a shock at the start of WWII. Mrs Ramsay's annoyances over noisy children, spoiled dogs and chatty nannies provides an amusing but thoughtful read. 9/10

4. In Clover - A bizarre little story showing the stereotypical presentation of a privileged, upper class woman taking in a family of dirty, scruffy, messy evacuees who ruin her house, refuse to participate in polite conversation and generally don't live up to her expectations, eventually returning to London because the expectant mother can't bear to be separated from her husband despite the air raids. Probably very accurate of some situations, but it really does buy into stereotypes. Both my grandmothers were evacuated as children and I'm fairly certain their mothers washed them on a regular basis! 7/10

5. It's the Real Thing This Time - A slightly disturbing story about a retired Major who lives with his spinster sister and is desperate to be involved in the war effort in some way, and keen for the "real war" to get started. Reflects the ideals of an older generation who are nostalgic for war, rather than those who have become disillusioned after WWI. A bit too short to really have much impact, but makes you think about this generation of people. 6/10

6. This Flower, Safety - An elderly woman relocates to the seaside from London, along with her ageing companion. Once the coast is attacked, she moves to the country to be with her nephew, only to find that the Germans can still reach them there. I expected this story to go on in a similar manner with the main character moving from place to place with some humour in the situation, but after the second move she realises it's impossible to truly be safe anymore and the story rather abruptly ends. I wished there had been more to this. 7/10

7. As the Fruitful Vine - A young woman marries hastily because her husband has been conscripted and discovers she's pregnant soon after he's left to go overseas with the navy. Despite what we may today believe from films and books about war wives being overjoyed at having war babies, Lucy's family is less than pleased with the situation. They spend all their time worrying about keeping her safe and away from news of the war and the navy, wishing that she'd waited until later to start a family. But when Lucy realises that her perfect older sister had always wanted a child but couldn't have one, she finally starts seeing things through her family's eyes and seems to take more care in looking after herself and her baby. Maybe it's just me who got this message, but I felt like Lucy realised the important job of bringing a new life into the world, particularly in war time, at the end of this story. 8/10

8. Lunch with Mr. Biddle - A humorous yet rather sad tale about an old bachelor who tries to keep up his vibrant life as an entertainer during the war, planning events at his country home with a bizarre mixture of dinner guests. He believes he's still an expert at picking the right guests, but the war has changed everyone - the smouldering writer is forceful with her opinions and the attractive beauty has become jaded after losing a brother in Dunkirk. But even as he's forced to leave the unsuccessful party due to an air raid, Mr Biddle still fails to see how war has changed people and hopes the two women will learn to get along. 8/10
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10/20/2011 page 15
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