Review published on January 19, 2018.
Set in 1940s London and with the Luftwaffe making nightly raids overhead, Emmeline (Emmy) Lake dreams of becoming a Lady War Correspondent. So when she sees a job advertised at an impressive newspaper, she promptly applies. Only it turns out the job isn’t for the newspaper at all but as secretary to the fearsome Henrietta Bird, redoubtable agony aunt at Woman’s Friend.
Mrs Bird’s requirements are very clear: letters containing any form of Unpleasantness must go straight in the bin. And Mrs Bird’s list of Unpleasantness is very long indeed. As Emmy finds herself dismissing letters from love-lorn, grief-stricken and morally confused readers in favour of those asking for a good rationing recipe or help with unsightly ankles, she decides the only thing to do is to write back to the conflicted readers herself.
This book is a romp through and through. Emmy is the epitome of the Blitz spirit and, as a result, her narrative voice is very Famous Five – all jolly hockey sticks and lashings of ginger beer. Stick with it though because, behind all the mustn’t grumble stiff-upper lip stuff, is an irresistibly funny and very moving novel about friendship, growing pains and the importance of being kind. There’s an eclectic supporting cast from Emmy’s sarcastic boss to her sensible best friend Bunty – and not forgetting the formidable Mrs Bird herself of course!
Underneath all the high-jinks though, there’s a real sense of daily life in wartime London, both from Emmy’s own experiences and the letters of the readers she responds to. There’s some particularly evocative descriptions of the blitz and there’s definitely sections of the book that made me cry just as much as other parts made me laugh out loud – the deft lightness of touch that allows the story to work on so many levels is a real compliment to the author.
Overall, this is a heart-warming and spirited read that would be perfect for anyone who enjoyed Eva Rice’s The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets and would be great for book groups to enjoy and discuss together.
Amy Louise Blaney 5/5
Dear Mrs Bird by A.J. Pearce
Picador 9781509853908 pbk Apr 2018
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