Tag Archives: London

Review: Back by Henry Green

I received a review copy of this title from The New York Review of Books.  This title was originally published in 1946 and is the first book in a series of nine by author Henry Green that NYRB is reissuing.

My Review:
backThe premise of this Green novel is deceptively simple: Charley Summer, recently released from a POW camp in Germany during World War II, is repatriated back into England.  Although Charley suffers from a severed leg for which he must wear a prosthesis, his greatest source of pain is the love that he lost while he was in that German prison camp.  Rose, a woman with whom he was having a passionate love affair, dies from an illness before Charley is sent home.  We first meet Charley when he is trying to find Rose’s grave in an English churchyard and we immediately discover that the plot is much more complicated than we were first led to believe.

Charley is shell-shocked, grief-stricken and disoriented as he tries to settle into a job in London and reconnect with old acquaintances.  He visits Rose’s parents, Mr. and Mrs. Grant who are also having a hard time dealing with the death of their daughter amidst sirens and bombings.  Mrs. Grant is confused and displays signs of dementia; she doesn’t recognize Charley and thinks that he is her long-lost brother John who died in World War I.  Her confusion and trauma reflects Charley’s own disoriented state of mind.  As Charley is departing from this painful reunion, Mr. Grant gives him the address of a woman named Nance whom Mr. Grant requests that the young man look up while he is in London.

Charley works in the office of a manufacturing firm in London and when they send him a new secretary his emotions become further muddled.  Miss Pitter, a rather plain looking woman, attracts Charley’s attention as he likes to start at her arms.  Green relates to us bits and pieces of what a character is thinking only through dialogue,  which is oftentimes very sparse.  Charley in particular is a man of few words so it is difficult to understand what is really going on inside his head.  But he seems, at times, attracted to Miss Pitter and unsure of how to proceed with her.  Charley’s diffidence and lingering feelings for Rose appear to keep him from acting on a  possible relationship with Miss Pitter.  His short sentences, which are oftentimes canned answers like “There you have it,”  and his inability to stand up for himself whenever someone is taking advantage of him make Charley a character wholly worthy of sympathy.  Green is a master at writing tragic characters who are awash in their sad fates.

To complicate matters even further, Charley pays a visit to Nance who was recommended to him by Mr. Grant.  When Nance opens the door to greet Charley he faints dead away because Nance looks just like his Rose.  The ensuing confusion over the identity of Nance and Rose reads like a bit of a slapstick, “Who’s on First” type of a comedy.  Charley is addressing Nance as if she were Rose, but Nance is completely confused and doesn’t understand what he is talking about.  Charley comes to the conclusion that Rose never really died but instead changed her hair color and moved to London to become a tart.  He spends quite a bit of time thinking of a way to get her to confess that she really is Rose.  These scenes are humorous but also have an underlying hint of sadness because it further highlights Charley’s emotional confusion and turmoil.

One more interesting aspect of Green’s writing that must be mentioned is the story he includes in the middle of the narrative.  It is Rose’s widower, James who sends Charley a magazine story about the 18th century French  court in which a woman mistakes a royal guard for her lost lover.  This is what the Roman poet Catullus would call a libellus, a little book, embedded within the story of Charley.  I felt that the story was only tangentially related to Charley’s predicament;  there is the case of mistaken identity in both narratives but Charley doesn’t appear to learn any type of a lesson after he reads this libellus.  He is too involved in his own issues to gain any type of perspective and it is only very slowly and gradually through love, understanding and patience that Charley begins to untangle his confused mind.

This is a brief but very engrossing novel.  It took me the better part of a week to read and absorb all that was going on in order to write these few words about it.  Green uses the stress of World War II in order to highlight the madness and confusion into which a traumatized mind can so easily descend.  This isn’t a pretty love story but it is certainly one that is more true to real, human life.

About the Author:
h-greenHenry Green (1905–1973) was the pen name of Henry Vincent Yorke. Born near Tewkesbury in Gloucestershire, England, he was educated at Eton and Oxford and went on to become the managing director of his family’s engineering business, writing novels in his spare time. His first novel, Blindness (1926), was written while he was at Oxford. He married in 1929 and had one son, and during the Second World War served in the Auxiliary Fire Service. Between 1926 and 1952 he wrote nine novels, Blindness, Living, Party Going, Caught, Loving, Back, Concluding, Nothing, and Doting, and a memoir, Pack My Bag.


Filed under British Literature, Classics, New York Review of Books

Review: Crooked Heart by Lissa Evans

I received an advanced review copy of this novel from the publisher through TLC Book Tours.

My Review:
Crooked HeartThis is the heartwarming tale of two lonely people that find each other amidst the turmoil of World War II in London.  Noel is an orphan living with his godmother when the novel opens and, although she is a tough old woman and a former suffragette, dementia is taking its toll on her health.  Due to her increasing confusion, she walks out of her home at night and dies in a sand pit.  Noel is then left with some of his godmother’s distant relatives who really don’t care to have the ten-year-old boy around.

When children are evacuated from London, Noel is placed with a woman named Vee who has an interesting and sad story of her own.  Vee got pregnant when she was seventeen, only to be abandoned by her lover.  Vee has raised her son as a single parent, not an easy thing to do in 1940’s London, and she also cares for her mute mother.  Vee is always trying some small scan to bring in money and put food on the table for her son and mother.  When she hears that she will be given a stipend for taking in Noel as an evacuee, she decides that any small inconvenience is worth the extra income.

The strength of this book lies in the development of the relationship between Vee and Noel.  Noel has pretty much been abandoned and is alone in the world.  At the same time, Vee”s mother remarries and her son Donald runs away because a scam of his own making has gone awry.  Vee has spent the better part of her life taking care of her mother and son, only to be left behind by both of them without so much as a thank you.

But Noel proves to be great company for Vee and together they run some minor scams to have a decent income.  When Noel disappears overnight, Vee misses him dearly and does everything she can to find him.  It is evident that this child has grown on her and she wants him in her life permanently.  The plot really pulls at the heartstrings as Noel realizes that there is suddenly a person in his life that cares about him and he has the potential for a true parent and a lasting home.

CROOKED HEART is a novel with a serious backdrop of World War II but the author manages to make the story heartwarming and funny.  For those who love World War II historical fiction, this book is a must read.


About The Author:
L EvansAfter a brief career in medicine, and an even briefer one in stand-up, Lissa Evans became a comedy producer, first in radio and then in television. She co-created Room 101 with Nick Hancock, produced Father Ted, and co-produced and directed The Kumars at Number 42. Her first novel, Spencer’s List, was published in 2002. Lissa Evans lives in north London.


Filed under Historical Fiction

Review and Giveaway: A Small Indiscretion by Jan Ellison

My Review:
A Small IndiscretionAnnie Black has been married to the same man for 20 years, they have 3 happy and healthy children together and she owns her own business.  So why in the world would she do anything to jeopardize the happy life she has worked so hard to build?

A SMALL INDESCRETION is written as a letter from Annie to her oldest son Robbie who has just spent the last year recovering from a horrible car accident.  In order to fully explain to her son and the rest of her family why she has so disrupted their lives, she must start by telling them about the 6 months she spent in London when she was 20 years old.

In 1989 Annie is feeling restless and wants to travel and have new adventures in Europe.  When she reaches England she begins working as an office manager for a man named Malcolm who is a wealthy builder.  I was riveted for the first half of the book while Annie tells us about her time in London and the impulsive mistakes she makes that involve alcohol and sex.  She is young, naïve, and compulsive and her inexperience goes a long way towards understanding her indiscretions.

Fast forward 20 years and what Annie calls a “small indiscretion” cannot be explained away by the stupidity of youth.  I felt that her mistake, which becomes fairly obvious about half way through the book, was more stupid than small.  Annie spends a lot of time feeling sorry for herself when her husband moves out and she has to share custody of her children with him.  She is lonely and lost.  But she is an experienced adult who should have known better and it is hard to feel any sympathy for her and the awful circumstances which she has created.

A SMALL INDISCRETION is an interesting read about which I have mixed feelings.  I had more interest in Annie’s story as a young woman, but the second part of the story which describes grown-up, adult Annie felt anticlimactic.  Scroll down to the end of my post to enter to win your own copy of the book.  I would love to know what others think about the plot of this novel.

About The Author:
Jan EllisonJan Ellison lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband of twenty years and their four children. Jan’s first published short story won a 2007 O. Henry Prize. Her work has also been short-listed for the Best American Short Stories and the Pushcart Prize. After her children were born, she spent seven years taking classes at San Francisco State and finally earned her MFA.

Jan had a brief career in her twenties at a Silicon Valley startup, marketing risk management software to derivatives traders. The company went public, Jan became a mother, and instead of leaning in she leaned out, became a stay-at-home mom, and began to write.

Before that, Jan abandoned a job in investment banking before she even started it to spend two years waitressing in Hawaii, temping in Australia, and backpacking through Southeast Asia. Her college days were spent at Stanford, where she earned a degree in History, but wishes it was in English. She left Stanford for a year at nineteen to live on a shoe-string in Paris and work in an office in London. She scribbled notes on yellow legal pads, and years later those notes provided the inspiration for her debut novel, A Small Indiscretion, published this January by Random House.

I am giving away one paperback copy of A Small Indiscretion to one reader in the U.S.  Just leave me a comment below and let me know that you want to win!  The winner will be notified via e-mail and will have 48 hours to respond.  Giveaway ends 2/26.

The Winner is: Suanne L.  Thanks to everyone that entered!


Filed under Literary Fiction

Review and Giveaway: A Memory of Violets by Hazel Gaynor

My Review:
A Memory of VioletsThis book alternates between two narratives, the first of which describes a pair of poor Irish immigrant orphans living on the streets of London in 1876 and who try to sell flowers in order to survive.  Flora, who is 8, is crippled, and Rosie, who is 5, is blind and although they have wretched lives the one thing that they do have is each other.  This part of the narrative is so pathetic and heart-wrenching that I almost gave up on the book because I could not take the sadness any longer.

The other part of the narrative takes place in 1912, when a young woman named Tilly moves to London to become a house mother at a Training Home for Watercress and Flower Girls.  All of the girls who work at the home are handicapped in some way and if it were not for this training home they would be living on the streets in abject poverty.  At the home the girls learn to make flowers out of fabric and the flowers are sold to vendors around London.

Tilly’s story is rather sad as well and we learn that she has had her own family troubles.  But coming to London and taking care of the girls at the home is a happy endeavor for which she is most grateful.  While Tilly is at the training home, she discovers a diary in the back of her closet written by the orphan girl Flora.  One day while they are selling their flowers, Flora and Rosie get separated on the streets of London and Flora ends up living at the home.  Tilly reads Flora’s diary and tries to discover what became of the two sisters and if they ever had the chance to reunite.

A MEMORY OF VIOLETS is a glimpse at the harsh reality of orphaned children living in the streets of London in the 19th century.  The characters will definitely leave an impression on the reader.  Although the narrative is sad and tragic at the beginning, my advise is to keep on turning the pages because the story does have a good ending.

About The Author:
Hazel-GaynorHazel Gaynor is an author and freelance writer in Ireland and the U.K. and was the recipient of the Cecil Day Lewis Award for Emerging Writers in 2012. Originally from North Yorkshire, England, she now lives in Ireland with her husband, two young children, and an accident-prone cat.

I have a paperback copy of the book to giveaway, open to US residents only.  Just leave a comment below and let me know you want to win!  The winner will be notified via e-mail and will have 48 hours to respond.  Giveaway ends 2/18.

Click on the TLC tour button below to see all of the blogs participating in A Memory of Violets book tour.





Filed under Giveaways, Historical Fiction