V for Victory ~ Lissa Evans

I remember somebody once pointing out to me that while most of the literature coming out of and focusing on the First World War was to do with life in the trenches, that which took the 1939–45 war as its subject was far more likely to concentrate on the home front.  That may be very much an over-generalisation, but it certainly holds true where Lissa Evans‘s new novel, V for Victory, is concerned. The book begins in the autumn of 1944. London is being ravaged by V2s, rockets which were launched from mobile units only to come crashing to earth five minutes later with little or no warning, devastating buildings and killing in just a few short months over 2000 Londoners.  Fourteen-year-old Noel is living in Hampstead with his aunt Marjorie Overs. Except she isn’t his aunt and her name isn’t Marjorie Overs.  It takes quite some time for the full story of their relationship to be revealed but what we do learn very early on is that for some years previously Noel had lived in the house they now occupy with his godmother, Miss Matilda Simpkin, who is dead. Quite how he comes to be there at this point with his non-aunt Marjorie, who we actually know as Vee, isn’t clear, but what is obvious is that there is a great deal of affection between the two of them and that Vee, who is doing her best to keep the wolf from the door by taking in lodgers, is doing a very good job of bringing the teenager up. The situation rather reminded me of Noel Streatfeild’s Ballet Shoes, given that, like the Fossil girls, Evans’ Noel is relying for his education on the strengths of the various individuals who live in the same house.

English and Latin from Mr Jepson, who‘s a journalist. Mathematics and bookkeeping from Mr Reddish – he‘s a cashier – sciences from Dr Parry-Jones, French from Mrs Applebee… cookery from Miss Zawadska.

Running parallel with the story of Noel and Vee is that of Winnie, an ARP warden for whom the war has meant far more responsibility than she found in her previous role as a bit part actress and who has grown into the job until she is regarded by her colleagues with respect and affection. Only a month after their marriage Winnie’s husband, Emlyn, was among those captured at Dunkirk, and as a consequence their relationship since has relied on censored and stilted correspondence most of which, on Emlyn’s part, is centred around his plans for the home they will have when the war is over,

she had fallen for Romeo and now found herself padlocked to the editor of Modern Homes and Gardens.

Winnie is a twin; not, however, an identical twin. Avril is glamorous, svelt, works in the Ministry of Information and is married to a man who is currently abroad, doing something for the Foreign Office. She is also embarking on a new career, as a novelist. Her book, surprise surprise, is about an ARP warden but the life that she portrays is one that Winnie singularly fails to recognise.

Rodrick’s profile had an ancient blankness, as of a frieze in a torch-lit passageway. Binnie turned, silently, knelt on the mattress and slid her cushioned form alongside his. “If we died now there’d be no more pretence,” she said. She imagined their two bodies fused by violence into one melded, bloodied being, ensexed eternally.

Fortunately, Evans herself is much more prosaic and realistic about not only the perils but also the sheer weariness that Londoners are facing day by day five years into a war that never seems as if it’s going to end. She speaks of the way in which everyone is bored of everything, not simply the dangers that they face, but the lack of food, the lack of fuel, the lack of colour, the lack of joy. And she also hints at the determination of those who have lived through the experience that when it is over things are going to be different. She never actually ventures into the political realm, but she does speak of the returning soldiers shocked by the dismal grind of London life for whom tin medals weren’t going to be enough this time round. I don’t think I’ve ever understood the reason behind the election of the Labour Government in 1944 quite so clearly before.

I‘m told that some of the characters in this novel appeared in the author’s previous book, Old Baggage, a copy of which I own but which I have yet to get round to reading. I’m sure, however, that those of you who have read it will very much enjoy meeting these people again in what I thought was a very satisfying novel and I look forward now to going back and encountering them in their earlier incarnations.

With thanks to Doubleday and NetGalley for a review copy.

23 thoughts on “V for Victory ~ Lissa Evans

  1. alibrarylady September 2, 2020 / 7:44 am

    I am very much looking forward to reading this having enjoyed both Old Baggage and Crooked Heart which are linked with this one. Lissa Evans’ writing style contains a dry humour and skilled observation that I find appealing; her books for children are excellent too.


    • Café Society September 2, 2020 / 4:20 pm

      I hadn’t realised she wrote for children. I shall definitely look out for those. Thanks.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Laura September 2, 2020 / 10:07 am

    I absolutely adored Old Baggage but didn’t get on with Crooked Heart at all so I’m hesitant about this one! It does sound good, though.


    • Café Society September 2, 2020 / 4:21 pm

      Not having read either of the others I can’t compare, Laura, but I enjoyed the rather wry humour of this.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Laura September 2, 2020 / 6:45 pm

        I thought Old Baggage was very funny as well 🙂


  3. A Life in Books September 2, 2020 / 11:22 am

    I’m sure you’ll enjoy Old Baggage, Ann. Both novels offer a slice of social history served up with wit and humanity.


  4. Jenny @ Reading the End September 2, 2020 / 12:55 pm

    “Everyone is bored of everything” is certainly a quarantine mood, isn’t it? I’ve had mixed feelings about the Lissa Evans books I’ve read in the past, but she has an absolute gift for evoking the time period.


    • Café Society September 2, 2020 / 4:23 pm

      Yes, that is one of the more notable features of the book Jenny. She’s a new author to me, so I can’t say how it compares with other examples of her work.


  5. heavenali September 2, 2020 / 4:23 pm

    Lovely, I can’t wait to read this, I loved Crooked Heart and Old Baggage, looking forward to reading about Noel and Vee again.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Café Society September 2, 2020 / 4:25 pm

      I’m saving her other books for long winter weekends when I just want to curl up and be transported elsewhere, Ali. This was such a treat.


  6. Julé Cunningham September 2, 2020 / 5:24 pm

    This does sound lovely, Lissa Evans went on my TBR list after coming across her on a couple of podcasts and I WILL get to her books at some point though I think I’ll pick up Old Baggage first.


    • Café Society September 2, 2020 / 5:38 pm

      Apparently Crooked Heart is linked as well, Julé. I know nothing about that so will have to investigate and see whether it is better to read that before Old Baggage.


  7. Sandra September 2, 2020 / 7:29 pm

    I must get around to Old Baggage, I’ve been saying that for ages! And hopefully then, this one.


  8. FictionFan September 3, 2020 / 7:47 am

    This series always sounds so good and since I still haven’t started it I’m glad to hear that it sounds as if they work as standalones, so it’s maybe not necessary to read them in order?


  9. Davida Chazan September 3, 2020 / 3:19 pm

    I read Old Baggage, but from all the reviews of this I’ve read, I don’t see where the characters overlap. I may have forgotten some, though…


    • Café Society September 3, 2020 / 4:22 pm

      Not having yet read Old Baggage, Davida, I can’t say for certain but if my suspicions are right I wouldn’t say anyway because I think it would spoil part of the denouement of V for Victory.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. rohanmaitzen September 3, 2020 / 4:09 pm

    I am impatient for this to make its way across the pond: I’ve really enjoyed her other novels, and it sounds as if this one lives up to them.


    • Café Society September 3, 2020 / 4:22 pm

      I hope so, Rohan, because all the earlier ones are now on my TBR list.


  11. BookerTalk September 13, 2020 / 4:09 pm

    I never got to read Old Baggage – there was something about the cover that turned me off. But I’m hearing nothing but good things about V for Victory so I have a feeling I will be succumbing


    • Café Society September 14, 2020 / 4:32 pm

      I’m going back to earlier books because I enjoyed it so much. It’s not a deep and meaningful read but really good for a rainy Sunday afternoon.


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