Original date of publication: 1985
My edition: 2009 (Bloomsbury Group)
Why I decided to read: I’m trying to read all of the Bloomsbury Group reprints
How I acquired my copy: Bookdepository, June 2010
Henrietta’s War is a novel told in epistolary format. Henrietta is the wife of a doctor in Devon, living in a “Safe Area” during World War II. Her never-reciprocated letters are to an old childhood friend, “Robert” on the war front, to whom she narrates the minutiae of her life at home. Her letters are full of tales of her neighbors: Faith, a flirty young woman who enjoys showing off her legs; Lady B, who writes letters to Hitler (As Henrietta says, "She says it has never failed to give her a good night's sleep. I think her great-grandchildren will enjoy those letters, don't you?"); Mrs. Savernack the village's local Committee Woman; and others, including Charles, Henrietta’s sensible husband, who puts up with his wife’s sarcastic sense of humor with an incredible amount of patience.
This is a short novel; it only covers the first half of the war, from 1939 to the end of 1941 (a copy of the second volume of Henrietta’s letters, also reprinted by the Bloomsbury Group, is sitting on my TBR shelf). Henrietta’s letters are warm, witty, and funny. There’s something about the tone of this book that’s very English and patriotic; and our middle-aged heroine regales us with tales of sitting on sewing bee committees, dealing with the people from London who invade every summer (and say things like, “you people down here don’t understand how the war really is”), gardening with lumbago while wearing a hot water bottle on her back, and going to court for showing a light during a blackout.
All of the people in the village jump off the page, and are a delight to read about; even Henrietta’s dog, Perry, is a vibrant character in the book! The war itself isn’t a major part of this book, but it deals more with how average English people deal with the war, even in a place like Devonshire. In many ways, it reminds me a lot of Good Evening Mrs. Craven, by Mollie Panter-Downes, a collection of short stories about average Britons during the war. Henrietta’s War is a book that’s just as enjoyable, and highly recommended; I found myself laughing out loud in many places. I read it in one sitting, and I’m eager to read the further adventures of Henrietta in the follow-up, Henrietta Sees it Through.