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Review: Few Eggs and No Oranges: the Diaries of Vere Hodgson 1940-45

Pages: 590

Original date of publication: 1976

My edition: 2010 (Persephone)

Why I decided to read: read this for Persephone Reading Weekend

How I acquired my copy: Persephone mail-order, January 2011

Few Eggs and No Oranges is the diary that Vere Hodgson kept during the war years. The diary reprinted here covers the “official” start of the war on June 25, 1940, and takes us up through VE Day, May 1945.

The subtitle is “A diary showing how unimportant people in London and Birmingham lived through the war years 1940-45, written in the Notting Hill area of London,” and that’s a pretty good summary of what this book is about. Vere Hodgson lets very little of her own personal feelings in (aside from her obvious hero-worship of Churchill), but she gives detailed updates about what’s going on politically. We get very little sense of the people she spends her days with, and very little about Vere’s personality, either. And yet, this book is a fascinating read, mostly because it follows her every day doings, even as extraordinary things were going on around her. And what I also liked was that Vere Hodgson is so unfailingly honest. And she’s always so positive, even in the darkest days of the Blitz.

As I read, however, I found Vere Hodgson to be a contradictory person. At times, she’s delightfully childish about fruit, one of the hardest things to acquire during wartime in London (and all the more dear when they did become available). On the other hand, she’s remarkably astute about the goings-on in the world and at home. This is a paragraph that really struck me as poignant as I read:

[Sunday 11th May 1941] Just heard the terrible news that Westminster Hall was hit last night. Also the Abbey and the Houses of Parliament. They saved the roof to a large extent. In the Abbey it was the Lantern. At first they thought Big Ben had crashed! One cannot comment on such things. I feel we must have sinned grievously as a nation to have such sacrifices demanded of us. Indeed future generations will say we have not taken care of what was handed down to us. We should have been more careful to defend it. We must pay the price now; but it is terrible to think of the wasted years, when, sunk in enjoyment, we did not realize that the days of all we looked on s precious were numbered—that our rulers and ourselves had lost their way in a mist of false high thinking, and common sense had gone.

I think it’s amazing how people during the war adapted so quickly, making do with what was available. But on the other hand, it seems as though Londoners were, in an odd way, better off than many! I think it’s interesting about the bombing aspect; because London was so large, you could only see or hear the bombs that were falling in your area!

This is Persephone No. 9. Endpaper below.


Karen K. said…
One of the many Persephones still sitting on my TBR shelf! (I'm not allowed to buy any new ones until I've finished the unread pile). It looks so interesting but I'm a little daunted by the length -- I will probably read it alongside another book to help break it up. And I love the endpaper.
Susan said…
I've had this book on my to-buy list for a couple of years now. I tried to buy it at Christmas from Persephone and they were reprinting it. Luckily, my birthday is approaching....

I really liked your review, especially as how you put that the author doesn't put much of herself into the book, it's mostly about going through the war, and yet it's still fascinating reading. This is much like some of the people I have met in Britain, like a need to record what they see as if the world is important, but not them - they are just ordinary people and so their personal thoughts aren't 'important' to record. I do really look forward to reading this book!
I really enjoyed this book. I believe that she wrote it as a sort of testament to what she and her neighbors and coworkers were going through. And it does reveal their quiet courage even when frightened by their daunting situation. She has a nice eye for the telling detail which brings her story to life.

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