Five… Books Set in World War II
1.) Miss Ranskill Comes Home (1946) by Barbara Euphan Todd
In short: Published by Persephone Books, this novel tells of Miss Ranskill, a woman who was stranded on a desert island and returns to find England at war – and is mystified by this ‘brave new world’.
From the review: “Miss Ranskill Comes Home has plenty of comedy, but it is comedy heavily dosed with pathos and even a tinge of the tragic. Certain scenes, such as that where Miss R tries and fails to give a speech to a local society on Life on a Desert Island, are painful to read in their awkward sadness. But the novel still manages to have plenty of light-hearted moments alongside.”
2.) Put Out More Flags (1942) by Evelyn Waugh
In short: a satire on the War Office and its administration attempts – especially concerning evacuees, all with Waugh’s recognisably spiky humour.
From the review: “Waugh’s idea of humour is mostly on the mark, and he uses comic language superbly (I laughed out loud several times) but too often the undercurrent was too nasty for me. I need to read a Wodehouse or two as an antidote.”
3.) Suite Francaise (2004) by Irene Nemirovsky
In short: Two books in a planned trilogy, about life in Occupied France. Written with an astonishing ability to see the human in everyone, especially since Nemirovksy would later tragically die at Auschwitz – the manuscripts for these novellas were discovered decades later.
From the review: “Nemirovsky is an incredibly gifted novelist. Had these been further edited; had the trilogy been complete, this could have been one of twentieth century’s most important works.”
4.) A House in the Country (1944) by Jocelyn Playfair
In short: Another Persephone title, about war and the home front – captivating, complex Cressida takes in paying guests, and awaits the return of her soldier husband.
From the review: “A House in the Country is not a cosy paean to countryside ways, but a deep, moving, and surprisingly controversial novel. […Playfair is] brave in her extremely honest, often critical discussions of warfare. Characters suggest that war is futile; that few soldiers know why they are fighting, and that ideals are far below blind obedience, when it comes to motive.”
5.) Henrietta’s War (1985) by Joyce Dennys
In short: The serialised diaries of an average woman during war, published in a magazine during the war and later republished together.
From the review: “Henrietta represents the middle-class women in England, plucky and determined to carry on as normally as possible. […] Henrietta’s War is quite simply a wonderful, witty, charming, and occasionally very moving book.”