Good Evening Mrs Craven: The Wartime Stories of Mollie Panter-Downes by Mollie Panter-Downes – review

Published by Persephone Books

Publication date – 24 April 2008

Source – own copy

Mollie Panter-Downes was noted for her wit, perception and incisiveness thanks to her reflections on English domestic life during the war years. This collection of her short stories explores the common themes of the day, discussing fear, separation, evacuations and the wartime obsession with food.

In Good Evening Mrs Craven, the war time stories of Mollie Panter-Downes, written from the beginning of the war to 1944, are collected together in one volume.

This is a lovely set of stories that whilst each entertain in their own right, together give the impression of a complete and cohesive look at the progression of the war from those left behind.

Each story is a little vignette into the lives of those left behind during the war. There is the Admiral, too old to be enlisted in this war, living under the impression he brings a little dazzle and light to a woman he flirts with, all the while not realising that she puts up with the flirting because she thinks it helps him. The Mrs Craven of the title is left behind in more ways than one and gives a glimpse into another facet of life.

There are sewing circles and committees to sit in with, where the reader sees the politics and strife that came with the clashes of personalities of people who would not doubt have had little to do with each other if the war had not happened.

There are tales of evacuees, not so much how they themselves reacted to being moved across the country but the hidden views of those who took them in.

Of course class divides are discussed. In one story an elderly woman tries to show her faithful old maid that the time for social etiquette such as dressing for dinner or eating alone in a draughty dining room are redundant during war time and tries to imply that it is unlikely those times will return. Friendships are tested when bombed out pals come to stay, each one finding the other’s endearing quirks are annoying habits when living in each other’s pockets.

The great thing about short stories is that you can dip in and out of them when you have a few spare minutes. It’s easy to return to without trying to remember where you were at with a story. There’s a wonderful layering to the stories in this book. Each one adds it’s own colourful element to give the reader an idea of what life may have been like at the time and the unseen struggles people had to endure (or cause as the case may be).

This is a fascinating collection which gives the reader an insight into the lives of those left behind. It is no doubt one I shall return to in the future.

13 Comments Add yours

  1. I adored this collection, I thought the characterisation was so subtle and insightful. Glad you enjoyed it too Janet!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. janetemson says:

      Yes, it was very insightful. Fascinating to read contemporary stories.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I’ll be able to nip along and buy a copy of this in the new Persephone shop now they’ve come to Bath!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. janetemson says:

      I’m very jealous. It was always one of my must visits when I was in London!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. You’ll have to come to Bath! We also have the wonderful Mr B’s Emporium. Bring a large suitcase…

        Like

  3. JacquiWine says:

    One of my favourite short story collections, lovely to see how much you enjoyed it too!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. janetemson says:

      Glad to hear you enjoyed it too Jacqui. It’s one I’ll no doubt dip in and out of again in the future.

      Like

  4. I love Panter-downes’ writing but somehow haven’t managed to read my copy of this yet – must rectify that!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. janetemson says:

      It’s a great one to pick up and read in between other books. Some of the stories are quite short so can be read waiting for the kettle to boil!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. heavenali says:

    Such a brilliant collection, years since I read it, but MPD is such a good writer, I recommend her novel One Fine Day if you haven’t read it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. janetemson says:

      I haven’t read it. I think I’ve a copy knocking around somewhere. I’ll have to look for it 🙂

      Like

  6. After your review and these wonderful comments, I so want to read this book! I do love wartime stories from that era, and what you describe here as their layered-ness.

    Like

    1. janetemson says:

      Oh I am pleased to hear that. I hope you enjoy it if you read it 🙂

      Like

Leave a Reply to madamebibilophile Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.