For fifty years Mollie Panter-Downes' name was associated with The New Yorker, for which she wrote a regular 'Letter from London', book reviews and over thirty short stories; of the twenty-one in Good Evening, Mrs Craven, written between 1939 and 1944, only two had ever been reprinted - these very English stories have, until now, been unavailable to English readers. Exploring most aspects of English domestic life during the war, they are about separation, sewing parties, fear, evacuees sent to the country, obsession with food, the social revolutions of wartime. In the Daily Mail Angela Huth called Good Evening, Mrs Craven 'my especial find' and Ruth Gorb in the Ham & High contrasted the humour of some of the stories with the desolation of others: 'The mistress, unlike the wife, has to worry and mourn in secret for her man; a middle-aged spinster finds herself alone again when the camaraderie of the air-raids is over...'
The stories read by English actress Lucy Scott beautifully re-create this tumultuous period.
©1999 The Estate of Mollie Panter-Downes (P)2011 Persephone Books and The Story Circle Ltd
“Sated as I am with a steady stream of blokey, schmaltzy or just plain bad second world war-related audios, I can only say that this funny, intelligent, deceptively low-key collection about the Home Counties under siege is long overdue....These semi-autobiographical stories...are splendidly read by Lucy Scott.” (Sue Arnold, The Guardian)
Like all of the audiobooks published by Persephone, this book is very professionally done. Lucy Scott's reading of the stories reinforces the mood and feel of these stories which tell us a lot about England during WWII "on the home front" and also about how human beings interact and react. I will be keeping my eye out for more forgotten treasures from this publisher.
Mollie Panter-Downes wrote a series of "Letter[s] from London" for The New Yorker during World War II and for the next few decades. I checked out these articles recently using The New Yorker's archives. They're surprisingly unsentimental, in fact quite snarky at times -- and so are these short stories (which also appeared in that magazine). It's hard to know whether Panter-Downes was simply a bit nasty and sharp-tongued herself, or if she was just giving The New Yorker the sort of tone it preferred. Whatever the case, these rather acid little sketches are more interested in the evils of the British class system than in the war, and the enemy here is not the Germans, it's privileged upper-class country ladies who look upon Cockney evacuees as "the lower orders" even while they're opening their homes to them. Panter-Downes' attitude toward her characters (ranging from ever-so-slightly arch to mocking . . . to outright sneering) seems to apply to just about everyone -- the poor are oafish, the rich are snobs, men are either callous or effete, and Englishwomen in general are competitive, shallow, and status-obsessed -- and unfortunately Lucy Scott's reading only emphasizes the stories' mean-spiritedness. She can't resist exaggerating the condescension and hypocrisy in everyone's voice, lest some listener in the back row fail to get it. If you're put off by a narrator whose own voice suddenly and jarringly changes, when doing dialogue, into broad, unsubtle caricature, you'll like these stories as little as I did.
I enjoy a variety of books including mysteries, historical fiction as well as young adult and children's literature. Listening to books gives me the ability to "read" in the car as well as the evening as a nightcap before bed.
This collection of stories gives insight into the lives off those English citizens on the home front during WW II. Although I am not a usual fan of short stories, this collection was a winner. Many of the stories leave you wondering and seem not quite finished but this is part of their charm. It is unusual to hear about the changes everyday people, rich, poor and middle class experienced during this time period. A refreshing change from tales of life on the front lines.
Glimpses of the time through the narrative of a non-military perspective. Somehow the era is beautifully created through these short stories. There is a humour and poignancy which I really enjoyed. Some great characters too. A light but insightful and subtle book. Nice reading style from the narrator who captured the atmosphere beautifully. For me this was an unexpectedly enjoyable book. Not a masterpiece but quite beautiful. Loved it.
The book's subtitle gives a clear description of its contents: a collection of stories written during the war years (1939-45). Most of them focus on the lives of British women and the minor and major inconveniences they experienced, from rationing food to finding a safe haven, from opening homes to refugees from the city to having to say goodbye (sometimes more than once). In her understated way, Panter-Downes brings to the fore the quiet--often silent--heroism of these women in wartime, adding a touch of humor and poignancy. While I can't say that I absolutely loved the book, I did appreciate many of the stories in it. The reader was over-the-top with a few characters but for the most part did an adequate job.
"Very enjoyable listen"
I had not heard of Mollie Panter-Downes until I came across this book. For people like me who did not live through the 2nd World War it paints some wonderful pictures of life for those 'left at home'. Some of the stories are very witty and others poignant. It is well read by Lucy Scott. I certainly plan to listen to it again soon and play it to an elderly relative for whom I am sure it will bring back many memories. I have no hesitation in recommending this book.
"Forgotten gem recovered"
One of my favourite books and beautifully read by Lucy Scott. I had to force myself to only listen to one story a day to make it last longer. Please, please, please, could you get Ms Scott to also read "Minnie's Room - The Peace Time Stories of Mollie Panter-Downes"?!
"A delightful remeberance of WW11"
The short stories by Mollie Panter-Downes are windows into the lives of middle class ladies and their men during the second world war. There are characters that I well remember from my early life in post war Britain and the delicious squelch of social embarrassment is almost uncanny in its verisimilitude. The dry humour requires special reading skills that are in abundance in Lucy Scott's fine performance. My only criticism is that it was not long enough but these stories are so good that they can be heard again with pleasure.
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