7 June 2018

Dear Mrs Bird by AJ Pearce

We're in the middle of a minor war zone of our own at the moment.  Removing all of the carpet to make way for new flooring sounded easy peasy...at the time.  And moving every piece of furniture shouldn't be a big deal for two able-bodied adults.  Five bookcases neatly lined with books looks lovely...those same books scattered in piles and boxes is a bit of a mess.  But a nice mess.  What choice do we have but to just get on with things!  A sentiment perfectly timed with the Blitz Spirit of this wonderful new book set during World War II.

My good friend Mary, at Mrs Miniver's Daughter, sent me the link to Dear Mrs Bird last winter.  Soon after that, the book was mentioned on a podcast.  Learning there had been a seven-way bidding war between publishing companies was all I needed to know before promptly placing a book order.  Congratulations to Picador for coming out on top. 

Just about everyone in the blogsphere knows the synopsis of this book, but just in case someone has been on a long break without social media....

'When I first saw the advertisement in the newspaper I thought I might actually burst.  I'd had rather a cheerful day so far despite the Luftwaffe annoying everyone by making us all late for work, and then I'd managed to get hold of an onion, which was very good news for a stew.'

Twenty-two year old Emmeline Lake lives with her best friend, Bunty, in an attic flat in London.  Since childhood, Emmeline has dreamed of a career in journalism.  With the war on, her dream now centres around becoming a War Correspondent.  An advertisement for a Junior connected with The London Evening Chronicle sets Emmeline's heart racing....but she's failed to read the ad carefully.  After landing the position and packing in a perfectly respectable job, Emmeline is left embarrassed when she realizes her new job will be sorting through the incoming mail for Mrs Henrietta Bird, an Agony Aunt.  A more delightful caricature of the uptight tweed persona would be hard to find....

'The desk was almost entirely bare, apart from an untouched ink blotter edged with green leather, a telephone, and a large framed photograph of Mrs Bird in front of an ornamental lake.  Dressed informally in a thick woollen getup and leather gloves, she was surrounded by a large group of gun dogs, all of whom were gazing up at her with quite fanatical devotion.' 

Soon realizing that Mrs Bird's stubborn refusal to entertain any Unpleasantness from letter writers seeking advice, Emmeline grabs an opportunity.  Secreting letters from young ladies who have fallen in love with European soldiers, women tempted to have an affair, or the lonely, Emmeline writes back under the guise of Mrs Bird.  It's not all that difficult as Mrs Bird finds all sorts of excuses to leave the office early, my favourite being the Cat Evaculation Meeting.

The first person narrative is key in making the reader identify with Emmeline's struggle with the morals and ethics of impersonating her senior at work.  But with each passing night of the Blitz and the thought that each day might be her last, Emmeline feels she has nothing to lose. 

Dear Mrs Bird is not a book to be pigeon-holed.  There was a moment when, after a few pages of jolly hockey sticks-type linguistics I wondered if I had bought something perhaps too sickly sweet.  But then the story deals with heartbreak, the horrors involving London's Fire Service, smashed windows, craters in the road, and the 'crump' of German bombs exploding in the distance.  Pearce's  description of ghost-like citizens, covered in the dust from the bombed out ruins of their own homes paints a devastatingly real picture.  And then, in stiff-upper lip fashion,  she would make me laugh...

   'Bunty, who I knew had been practising looking casual, was in the living room, standing with one hand on the mantelpiece while staring into mid-distance.  she looked as if she was modelling a pattern for Vogue.'
I loved my time spent reading Dear Mrs Bird, coincidentally while listening to 1940s swing which is my background music of choice while at home.  Sprinkled with nuggets of social history I enjoyed the mention of knitting patterns, herring pie, paste sandwiches, and wartime rations, and the peripheral characters are fantastically well-drawn.  Also, the author's message of the importance of women being confident and in control of their circumstance was hit home in one of my favourite lines....

'Granny didn't spend half her life chaining herself to railings for today's woman to moon around waiting for some chap to look after her.'

The rights to this story have been sold, so stay tuned for the television program....I can't wait!


  1. Did I tip you off? I'd forgotten that - but I can see why I thought it would tick all your boxes, Darlene! I can just imagine the TV adaptation - Boxing Day evening, do you think, with a box of unrationed chocolates!

  2. Sounds perfect, Mary! Add in another season of 'Mum' and I'll be over the moon.