Friday, April 04, 2008

London 1945: Life in the Debris of War by Maureen Waller

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)

4 comments:

maxine said...

I used to have to listen to this kind of thing from my Mum when I was a kid!

Tessa Pugh said...

How fascinating. That sounds like a book I'd like to read. I do love that period of history. It seems like, because they were asked to, women were able to work harder and do without more than we of today could ever imagine. I mean, hey, I even buy my cabbage pre-shredded.
I really enjoy your blog, by the way. I read 4-7 books a month and I try to write a review or at least a small post on each.

Becky said...

Maxine, maybe your mother was one of the hundreds of women the author interviewed!

Becky said...

Tessa, don't you love pre-shredded cabbage? It's the best! Yes, one thing that really comes out in this book is how much work it took each day just to get enough food and fuel for heating. It must have been back breaking.

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