If it were my habit to assign catchy titles to my blog posts, this one would be called “Only for the Truly Obsessed.” Another one I thought of was “Too Much Detail, Even for Me.” Want to know what color the ration books were? Buff for adults, green for pregnant women, nursing mothers, and children under 5. Blue for children between 5 and 16. Want to know how much allowance a householder was granted if he had evacuees staying with him? 16s 6d for older children, 8s 6d for younger ones. How about which articles of civilian clothing were allotted to returning soldiers (a hat, a three-piece suit, a shirt, a tie, two pairs of socks, one pair of shoes, a raincoat and a pair of cufflinks). See what I mean?
Because I just love this kind of thing, I did read most of the book. I skipped the chapter about propaganda, and skimmed the bombing statistics (how many bombs in which neighborhoods, how many wounded, how many dead). Instead I concentrated more on the domestic details. Did you know that British women used shoe polish for mascara? It doesn’t say whether any of them went blind from it.
Waller’s prose is matter of fact and can be flat in places, especially where she’s just citing statistics. But she’s nothing if not thorough. I enjoyed most of this book, and the parts I didn’t enjoy I just skipped. Easy. It’s not like I didn’t know how it ended.
(Book 12, 2008)