Set during the London Blitz in 1940-41, you’d expect a dark and dour novel but this couldn’t be farther from the truth. It was a happy/sad book that highlighted the indomitable and resilient spirit of Londoners during the time, yet cast a keen eye on the devastation of the war.
The story is told from the perspective of a young woman named Emmeline Lake, whose fondest wish is to become a journalist. In particular, a Lady War Correspondent. Emmy lives in Pimlico and shares a flat with her best friend in the world, Bunty.
Emmy is famed for her ‘plucky’ outlook. She works answering phones for the Fire Brigade. This is no easy task as the Luftwaffe’s bombing of London during the Blitz ensured that there were myriad fires, accidents, and injuries every single day.
When she gets an interview with the London Evening Chronicle, she is over the moon with anticipation. However, she finds out that the job is not with the newspaper, but rather it is with the magazine “Woman’s Friend” which has its offices in the same building. Still working her post at the Fire Brigade, Emmy begins working as a typist for “The Women’s Friend” in January of 1941.
Her job is to screen the mail received by agony aunt Mrs. Henrietta Bird and choose those that Mrs. Bird is likely to answer. These are few and far between as Mrs. Bird will not reply to letters about adultery, politics, divorce, intimacy, and any other topic she saw as weak. Even the replies that Mrs. Bird does write are very brusque and unsympathetic.
“A step too far – A catalogue of deceit”
Feeling sorry for the countless letters that didn’t pass muster by Mrs. Bird, Emmy begins to answer them herself. Her heart breaks for the desperate predicaments of the letter writers. Her big mistake is that she writes her replies on “Women’s Friend” stationery and signs them “Mrs. Henrietta Bird”.
“The moon was lighting up London for the Luftwaffe and they were taking full advantage of it.”
When Emmy’s friend Bunty gets engaged to one of the Fire Brigade firemen, the girls are joyous. It is so nice to have something ‘good’ to look forward to.
The Blitz leaves no one unscathed. Emmeline lives her life with a mixture of pluckiness, bravery, guilt, concern, and resilience that is a tonic to read about. Tired, so tired, Emmy bravely continues on with her two jobs. “I willed the lift to get stuck so I could sit on the floor and nod off.“
“Dear Mrs. Bird” was a fast read. Though I don’t recommend you read it in public, lest you embarrass yourself either laughing or crying. It reflected an accurate and well researched portrayal of what life was like living in London during the Blitz. The constant bombing and devastation, the rationing, the losses…. AND the stoicism of the people who valiantly tried to maintain a positive outlook while there was little to be positive about.
The story was written with a kind of innocence. Emmy was very young, so she had a young person’s righteous and innocent world view. Her experiences were daunting, yet she remained true to herself and the people she loved.
Yes, along with some laughter, there were many tears shed IN the novel, and, I might add, ON the novel (there were parts where I blubbered like a fool). Written with warmth, empathy and humor, A.J. Pearce’s debut is a resounding success. It provides a wonderful fictional portrait of WWII London while at the same time being a fitting testament to the power of friendship. I hope you’ll read it for yourself and see. Highly recommended.
I received a complimentary digital copy of this novel from Simon & Schuster Canada via NetGalley. This fact in no way influenced my review.A.J. Pearce was born in Hampshire, England. Her favourite subjects at school were English and History, which now (finally!) seems to be making some sense.
She attended the University of Sussex where she majored in American History, spending her Junior Year at Northwestern University in Illinois, USA.
She began writing as a hobby in 2005. In 2012 she came across a 1939 copy of a weekly women’s magazine and the idea of a writing a novel set in wartime London was born.
In early 2016 AJ finished Dear Mrs Bird and signed with her agent Jo Unwin. A week after submission and following a seven-publisher auction in the UK, Dear Mrs Bird was acquired by Picador, and in the USA by Scribner after a similarly competitive auction. Translation rights have been sold in a further eleven countries and Dear Mrs Bird has now been optioned for development for television.
AJ was chosen as one of The Observer’s New Faces Of Fiction Debut Novelists 2018. She is currently writing her second novel.