Wednesday, 30 January 2019

Dear Mrs Bird, A J Pearce

When Emmeline (Emmy) Lake bags herself an exciting new job she thinks she’s taken her first steps to accomplishing her dream of becoming a Lady War Correspondent. Unfortunately, she soon discovers that she’s actually been hired as a typist at Woman’s Friend, a failing magazine with an Editress decidedly behind the times. She has a lengthy list of unacceptable topics for the advice column, and even those she does respond to probably wish she hadn’t. Emmy is affected by the desperate letters that come through, knowing how easy it is to get yourself in an unfortunate situation, especially with the war on. She feels moved to act.

Outside of Woman’s Friend she has plenty to keep her occupied. She lives with her lifelong best friend Bunty who is fiercely loyal and not so subtly tries to set Emmy up. When not entangled in budding romance, Emmy volunteers overnight at the fire station, contributing to the war effort in the best way she knows how yet always wishing she could do more. Although generally an upbeat, fairly naïve narrator, you do get a sense of the struggles of living in London during the Blitz and having to maintain the famous British stiff upper lip. In placing women in the leading roles Pearce brings into focus the toll the war took at home and the pressure to remain jolly however bad it got.

An easy read that was predictable throughout. The premise of the agony aunt letters is largely overshadowed by Emmy’s life outside of the office. At its most gripping in the build up to inevitable tragedy, this is a book with a big heart. Emmy’s final letter in Dear Mrs Bird is her most mature and will strike a chord and humanise a traumatic period of history, the human story of which is often obscured by positive propaganda.

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