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VINE VOICEon 21 April 2001
Mollie Panter-Downes wrote for the New Yorker for over fifty years, and these stories have, until now, never been reprinted. The stories give a wonderful picture of people adapting to the war and the changed circumstances, both social and material, that they find themselves in. The title story poignantly explores the emotions of a woman who has had a long affair with a married man, almost a second marriage, and realises that if her lover is killed, she will have no right to know what has happened, there will just be a deafening silence. In The hunger of Miss Burton, a woman fantasises about food, all the food she can no longer obtain, to compensate for the emptiness of her life. In Goodbye, my love, Ruth spends the last weekend of her husband's leave trying to be cheerful, making plans to keep herself busy while he's away. The news that his leave has been unexpectedly extended shocks her to tears. These stories are full of such insights into the uncertainties of war, particularly for those left behind-mothers, wives, women in all circumstances. They are the kind of short stories which are always too short, there is the seed of a novel in almost every one.
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on 9 August 2008
I don't normally choose to read short stories but this collection holds together beautifully as they all centre around the stresses suffered by those on the home front in World War Two. What I really like about them is the author's careful, sympathetic and wry observation of human nature. Somehow they seem to slip down as happily as cocoa might have under wartime rationing, and I am sure I will be re-reading them many times.
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on 26 October 2005
Mollie Panter-Downes takes a wonderfully penetrating look at how World War II affects the daily lives of families, wives, and veterans. She paints a nostalgic picture of these very 'English' lives, yet does not shy away from the harsh realities the conflict produced for those left at home. The title story is particularly moving in its potrayal of Mr.Craven's mistress 'Mrs. Craven'. This middle-aged spinster's deep loneliness and anguish when her companion has gone to fight and his regular letters suddenly cease, touches at the heart of human suffering. From the five Persephone books I have read, this stands out as a favourite.
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on 23 November 2009
I rarely choose short stories, as novels always seem so much more absorbing, but these I loved. Mollie Panter-Downes was a journalist with The New Yorker, so the collection starts and ends with a `Letter from London' - 3 September 1939, the day war was declared, and 11 June 1944, shortly after D-Day.

The 21 stories between provide a fascinating insight into the way ordinary people carried on their lives during the war years. Setting takes second place to character in these stories, and the author has a wonderful knack of summing up a person in a few brief words so that you have a real sense of knowing them and of understanding how they feel about what is happening around them.

These are not stories of the front line or the fighting. They're stories of those left behind to carry on as best they can, adjusting to new lifestyles, and not knowing what is happening to their loved ones, all the time wondering whether things will ever be the same again. In many ways they never will. Friends and lovers will be lost, homes will be bombed, and the spirit of camaraderie that helped keep people going will dissipate, never to be regained. But these stories are far from depressing. Mollie Panter-Downes writes with wry humour and irony that makes you smile. The style might seem old-fashioned to younger readers who may never have encountered the sorts of characters portrayed in these pages, but don't let that put you off. The stories are as fresh today as they were when they were written and can be enjoyed by everybody. Thoroughly recommended!
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on 9 November 2008
This was such an enjoyable read - she has all of Dorothy Parker's insight and eye for detail, without the acidity and cynicism. Mollie Panter-Downes captures a time and place that are both long-gone, but manages to evoke them so clearly that you are right there with her. But don't be expecting something saccharine - far from it. Her wit is devastating, and she can capture a character in only a few words. This is a delight - read it!
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VINE VOICEon 7 August 2010
Mollie Panter-Downes was the London correspondent for the New Yorker and this collection from Persephone Books brings together a number of her contributions to the magazine which were written during World War II. The book opens with her Letter from London dated 3 September 1939 and ends with another dated 11 June 1944. Between the two letters are twenty-one short stories, each of which offers an insight into the hopes and fears of British people trying to deal with the changes the war has brought to their lives.

These stories are not particularly dramatic or sensational in any way. They are realistic stories that focus not so much on the war itself, but on the effects of the war on the women (and a few of the men) who were left behind at home. We read about women attending sewing parties, worrying about loved ones who are away fighting, preparing for their husbands to go to war, coping with being pregnant during the war and experiencing almost any other wartime situation you can think of.

After finishing the book, there are a few stories that stand out in my memory more than the others. In Clover, for example, is a story about a rich woman called Mrs Fletcher who takes in a family of evacuees from a poor part of London. This was an interesting study into how the war pushed together people of different social backgrounds who wouldn't usually have mixed with each other. This Flower, Safety follows Miss Mildred Ewing as she moves from one hotel to another in an attempt to escape from danger, beginning to despair of ever finding somewhere safe to live. Then there's the story of Miss Burton, who is so hungry she can think about nothing else. The title story is also one of the best; it's about a woman who has been having an affair with a married man. On the evening before he leaves to go to Libya, she wonders how she'll be able to find out whether he's dead or alive.

The stories are published in chronological order, as they appeared in New Yorker between 1939 and 1944, showing how life in Britain changed as the war progressed. Despite the subject matter, these stories are not all bleak and depressing - there's also a lot of humour in Panter-Downes' writing, in the form of gentle wit and irony.

As with most of the short story collections that I've read, there were some that didn't interest me very much, but others that I loved and wished were longer. Overall though, it was a wonderful book and I would highly recommend it.
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on 4 January 2016
First class stories. Often I find short stories too disparate to read one after the other. This collection hangs together well and provides a fascinating insight into the trials and tribulations of the upper middle class, in other words, not too many trials or tribulations!
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on 22 July 2015
Mollie Panter-Downes wrote regular correspndences for the New Yorker magazine in the 1930s and 40s. This is a compilation of short stories that is bookended by a pair of letters. Through fiction, Panter-Downes gives us a portrait of life in Britain during the war.

She steers away from actual conflict, though. There is little sign of the Axis powers, of bombs, bullets or Messerschmitts. It is much more about life (mostly rural and suburban, but some urban life is included) and the inconveniences that the war has caused to the everyday happenings. There are shadows of war and the odd gas mask about, but this speaks to some of the British values of the mid 20th century that were being fought for: community spirit, a good cup of tea, some peace & quiet or a nice view.

The odd thing about this is that so very few of the stories were particularly memorable. That may sound like damning with faint praise, so please allow me to explain. When reading, the details varied from story to story, but what one gets consistently, though evolving as time goes on, is a feeling, a sense of what is going on in wartime Britain. The characters are almost too well done; they are fairly boring, down-the-street people who have no outstanding qualities, are not afforded the opportunity to show their depth of character and to whom the strangeness of life, as caused by the war, is not an overwhelming burden against which they must battle. Rather, they just get on with things as best they can, while there are some disruptions to the kind of life they have been used to living.

It would do well, though, to look a little closer at the story which lends his title to this particular collection. Mrs. Craven is an assumed title; it is not her real name. It is assumed, for who else would Mr. Craven be meeting for dinner on a regular basis but his wife? It could be seen as a kind of Brief Encounter type affair. The twist is though that Mr. Craven gets called up for service, so his mistress has no means of knowing how he is doing while she also has added anxiety knowing that his life is in danger. The only way she can find out is if she phones his wife…
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on 9 September 2012
Good Evening, Mrs Craven is a wonderful selection of short stories written by Mollie Panter-Downes as articles for The New Yorker during WWII. The stories focus on middle-class women and how they were affected by the war, whether it's trying to say goodbye to a husband leaving for active service, opening your home to receive evacuees or a mistress worrying about whether she would ever find out if her lover is hurt or injured. The selection of stories are arranged chronologically which gives a good sense of the changing mood and worsening conditions in England throughout WWII. Some are funny, some sad, but each one feels as if Mollie Panter-Downes has managed to lift a curtain and allow the reader a brief glimpse of her characters' lives before the curtain falls and they carry on. I think what I'm trying, rather clumsily, to say, is that all the characters and situations she wrote about felt very real to me, and I felt like I'd been given a real glimpse into what life was like for certain groups of people during WWII. And, of course, the Persephone edition is a joy to read.
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on 4 July 2014
Some beautifully written stories, very evocative of the war time period. I've already bought an extra copy for a friend as a birthday present, and if you're interested in 20th century women's fiction then you're sure to find some stories you'll like in this collection.
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