Published by Picador
Publication date – 5 April 2018
Source – review copy
London, 1940. Emmeline Lake and her best friend Bunty are trying to stay cheerful despite the Luftwaffe making life thoroughly annoying for everyone. Emmy dreams of becoming a Lady War Correspondent and when she spots a job advertisement in the newspaper she seizes her chance – but after a rather unfortunate misunderstanding, she finds herself typing letters for the formidable Henrietta Bird, the renowned agony aunt of Woman’s Friend magazine.
Mrs Bird is very clear: letters containing any form of Unpleasantness must go straight into the bin. Emmy finds herself dismissing problems from lovelorn, grief-stricken and morally conflicted readers in favour of those who fear their ankles are unsightly or have trouble untangling lengths of wool. But soon the thought of desperate women going unanswered becomes too much to bear and Emmy decides the only thing for it is to secretly write back . . .
Irresistibly funny and enormously moving, Dear Mrs Bird by AJ Pearce is a love letter to female friendship, Blitz spirit, the kindness of strangers and the art of letter-writing itself.
I loved this book from it’s opening page. The warmth of the writing eminates from the pages, drawing the reader back to Emmy’s war time London. There is something wonderfully enveloping about Dear Mrs Bird and I was captivated until the very last word.
Emmy is a charming character. Her enthusiasm for life, the excitment she finds in the everyday, is highlighted by the way she Randomly Capitalises Certain Phrases, to emphasise their importance, and the required level in intense exhuberhance. She seems to contain boundless hope and energy, even when things go wrong. She is kind, considerate, so much so that it is her kindness and her dread of seeing others go unaided that gets her into trouble. The reader follows Emmy as she digs herself deeper and deeper into a hole of her own making, all the while hoping that she doesn’t get found out. Mrs Bird is formidable. She can easily be imagined as an intimidating, solid woman, unware of the effect she has on others, or rather uncaring as to anyone’s feelings but her own. She is a fabulous foil to Emmy’s gentler and more modern outlook. All of the other characters are so well drawn that I could easily envisage all of them.
Whilst humour is an intregal part of the story, there is also inevitably tragedy, given the war time setting. The story was inspired by real life advice pages in old magazines, and that shows in the letters sent to Mrs Bird. The situation of those left at home is dealt with in a gentle and respectful way, and leaves the reader to think about this often forgotten side of the war.
This is a novel that envelops the reader and one in which you struggle reluctantly to leave it’s embrace. I read slowly, wanting to eek out being a part of Emmy’s world. A sign of a great story is that you want to reach the end to see what happens all the while dreading reaching the final page. Such was the case with Dear Mrs Bird. I could happily read a sequal that simply shows Emmy and her friends go about their everyday lives.
There’s joy to be found on every page of Dear Mrs Bird. A standout novel for 2018. Simply wonderful.
About the author
AJ Pearce grew up in Hampshire and studied at the University of Sussex. A chance discovery of a 1939 womans magazine became the inspiration for her ever-growing collection and her first novel Dear Mrs Bird. She now lives in the south of England.