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What a wonderful review.
Guy commented on my blog yesterday writing that the parts on the bureaucracy mirrored what Balchin experienced as well. I think some editing would have been beneficial for some of those parts but I thought they were so realistic.
I definitely think he is a forgotten classic and I'll go back and have a look at what else he has written.
I thought it was extremely witty, I didn't expect it. And the parts about the war seem very authentic.

Margaret @ BooksPlease

Interesting - definitely one I'll look out for. I hadn't heard of this one, although I did know about The Small Back Room - not read it though. It's disheartening to realise that 'endless meetings where little is accomplished and needless reorganizations' happened then and still go on today!


I'm not sure how popular this particular Balchin would have been at the time. The folk who lived through the Blitz had enough to cope with without reading novels about it.

And it's interesting that the looser morals may have applied for some folk but for others it was considered scandalous. I think there's probably two sides to those at home during the War that were quite different in their attitudes to many things. The Black Market, for example was welcomed by many who would normally be considered honest while others - poorer folk who might be expected to welcome it - thought it was damaging to the war effort and refused to have antything to do with it.

Wining and dining during the Blitz reminds me of my mother - the day Liverpool received its worst pounding and ammunition trains blew up a couple of miles away she was sure Dsd would be dead. (He was a firefighter on the docks). Rather than go to a shelter she went upstairs and had a bath. She was convinced the Germans were coming and decided if so she was at least going to be clean when they arrived!

Liz F

My mum was 22 and living in Leeds when the war started and she said that after the first few months, people just decided to get on with life as best they could because there was the feeling that if your name was on it, then that would be it no matter what precautions you took.
Years ago I remember talking to an elderly lady who had been working in central London from 1943 onwards and looked out of the train window one morning on her journey in, to see a V2 flying bomb keeping pace with the train.
When the engine noise of the bomb cut out (the sign that it was going to drop) she was convinced that that was it and could only watch as it suddenly veered off to the side away from the train tracks and exploded about a quarter of a mile away.
I remember her saying that after that she felt that someone was looking after her because normally the V2's just dropped as soon as the engine noise stopped.


Caroline--This is a case where parts of it while reading felt a tiny bit tedious, but when I finished I appreciated the whole. I liked the witty prose style as well--Bill seemed pretty jaded but there were times the dialogue made me laugh. I think I might see if I can find a copy of The Small Back Room in the library--or try and borrow the DVD. Anyway--I'm glad I stuck it out!

Margaret--I think some government organizations are so bureaucratic it's a wonder they get anything done. I've decided it's all cyclical--if you stick aroun long enough all the changes that are made over time will just go right back to the beginning as if nothing had ever changed at all! :) I shouldn't joke, but I do think that some things haven't changed so much sadly when it comes to trying to accomplish work in an efficient manner.

Scriptorsenex--I suspect you're right about this book and people not wanting to read about it while it was happening. I was going by what the wikipedia said about his books in general--he was writing from the 30s-60s--I should have clarified that. Maybe this is why Agatha Christie was so popular--the need for escapism! I have just started reading the diary of Vere Hodgson so I'll be curious to hear about her experience of the war. I seem to keep reading about books with a war setting about affairs and such that probably wouldn't have occurred otherwise--but I am sure you're right that it would have been scandalous and frowned upon by many--probably the affairs and such were in the minority? Of course it's those sorts of subjects that make for interesting reading I suppose. It's so interesting hearing stories by people who lived through the era. I've not really read much that was written at the time or by people who experienced it--rather I've read a lot of historical fiction, which I think is not really the same thing at all. I'm hoping to read much more and get a better view of how it really was. In any case I thought this was an interesting novel--unusual, if even only one person's perspective. I bet your mother must have lots of interesting stories!

Liz--It would be hard to have lived through so many consecutive days of bombing--both day and night. I do wonder if people got fed up with it all and just continued on as best they could--and it sounds as though they did. It's unimaginable to me that you might see enemy planes flying above like that. Fascinating stories--I am sure I have books of anecdotal histories of the period which I must now dig out!


This sounds like a story well worth looking out for, so I will and have put it on my ToBeRead list:).I have Bomber by Len Deighton, just not sure - with quite a few books on the go - if I can read it in June already.


How interesting that the book was written about the war while in the midst of it. Is the war mostly background to the human drama (if the blitz could ever really be called background)?

Literary Feline

I will have to add this one to my wish list. I love all things WWII, but still haven't read much of anything relating to the Blitz.

Off the subject but related to bureaucracies, you are so right about them being somewhat cyclical. I work for the government and in my 14 years have seen some ideas come and go and come again--as if they are new again. It seems to be the way of things. We can only hope we make progress in the meantime.


Catharina--I did enjoy it--there were moments of exasperation in terms of how the Ministry was run, but otherwise I thought the story well done. I'm looking forward to Bomber since I like thrillers, though it is a chunky book and I might start early. It would be fun if you read along, but I know all about having already set reading plans.

Stefanie--Isn't that interesting? The main story is the human drama, but it is all so wrapped up in the war and bombing it is impossible to separate the different threads.

Literary Feline--I've read quite a few books about the war, but in thinking back I don't think I've read much about the Blitz either. I'm going to look for more books I think--and there should be plenty. I think government agencies are very similar and they tend to get big and unwieldy and you're right about how cyclical it all is! It's easy to see why the character in the book was so often pessimistic!


Yes, I wondered too who would be reading this sort of book (or The Small Back Room). It would seem to have far more appeal from a distance! I wondered too if it might almost be classed as undermining the war effort! Great review. I think I will need to read this one now too.


Bibliolathas--When I was reading the book I hadn't thought about the fact that who would want to read it while it was happening--scary enough. I found it fascinating however. I wonder who originally published it. And I lucked out as my library owns The Small Back Room--the movie version, too. Not sure when I will get to them, but they are both handy.

Joan Kyler

Have you read any books you could recommend about Paris during the German occupation in WW2?


Joan Kyler--I am sure I have and can probably suggest several titles to you, but I think I'll need to think on it a bit. Two do come to mind right away--last year I read April in Paris by Michael Wallner (a German author) and thought it was okay--told from a German soldier's perspective. I am also reading Elizabeth Buchan's The Light of the Moon right now and am very much enjoying it (about a British woman of French heritage who goes into Occupied France to help organize the resistance). Let me think about what other books about Paris during WWII--I'll come back and post other titles--I love reading about that era, too.


I really wish I could have joined in for these reads, but the library didn't have most of them...


Kailana--I broke down and bought a used copy of it as my library didn't have it either. I'm a pushover when it comes to books like this. I'm glad I read it--now need to get moving on the next book!

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