During the Blitz in London, Emmy is doing “her bit.” She works as a dispatch officer for bomb response firefighters. She is glad to feel useful but she really wants to become a serious war journalist. When she spots an ad for a part-time position at a newspaper, Emmy jumps at the opportunity to get her foot in the door. After a brief, distracted interview, she takes the job, but on her first day she learns it isn’t quite what she thought she signed up for.
Emmy has been hired to help sort reader letters for the advice columnist Mrs. Bird. A gruff, old-fashioned woman, she refuses to answer anything that references the “unpleasantness.” She really only shares household tips and recipes, which Emmy is sure is one of the reasons the circulation is so low. Frustrated by Mrs. Bird and determined to help the desperate inquirers, she begins to send replies by mail, signing Mrs. Bird’s name.
My mother steadfastly referred to the war as This Silly Business, which made it sound like a mild fracas over a marmalade sponge. ~ Loc. 1220
Meanwhile Emmy and her roommate Bunty try to navigate the day-to-day life of simply being a young woman living in the city — meeting men, worrying about families back home, holding down a job, making do and altering hand-me-down clothing — all while living in the midst of the Blitz.
The book is a fairly light read, considering the heavy topics. Told from Emmy’s point-of-view, it takes too long to get to the meat of the story. Emmy dithers about how to handle the letter replies until at least a third of the way into the book. Additionally, the final resolution is very predictable though it is somewhat forgivable since the book is meant to ultimately be a feel-good story.
The characters are fairly strong but their actions are a bit to generic for me. Why is Mrs. Bird so strait-laced? What does Mr. Collins love about writing fiction? What ultimately happens with Emmy’s brother? It would have made for a more emotional story if the reader for to see just a bit more of what made each character tick. I think this could have been done without bogging down the light style.
For such a specific place and time in history, the setting also didn’t feel very real. In only a couple of tense scenes did I begin to get a sense of the backdrop. Perhaps the author felt knowing it was 1940 London was enough for the reader.
Overall, it was an enjoyable if somewhat lightweight read. It felt unpolished some of the time but it moves at a brisk pace.
Read via NetGalley. My thanks to Simon & Schuster for the review copy access.
Hardcover: 288 pages
Publisher: Scribner (July 3, 2018)