After reading “Less” by Andrew Sean Greer (this years Pulitzer prize winner), i needed something light, funny and entirely optimistic. Prize winning books are deep but too dark and do take a lot of energy to get through sometimes.
“Dear Mrs Bird” though set in war zone London, is the first book i have come across, which in spite of the war setting, has an exuberance that leaves you happy and optimistic.
“…and then I’d managed to get hold of an onion, which was very good news for a stew.” All books focus on deprivation during the war and heartbreak, but this book is about the life as it went on – despite the war. Miss Emmeline Lake, like any other young adult is keen to become a “lady war correspondent” and with starry eyes contemplates her application for a Junior at a well-known newspaper – dreaming about her travels into war zones and active effort to bringing the enemy down.
Her positive spirit does not let her fail, when she discovers that the job is for a woman’s weekly as a typist and she finds herself sifting through letters received from people who are looking for someone to help them with their entirely mundane, day-to-day problems. She feels a connect with some of them – they are lonely and looking for friends. Mrs Bird is a sort of phenomenon at this weekly magazine and someone to be feared. Her list of “Unacceptables” will leave you wondering about what might then be acceptable at all. Mrs Bird does not believe in responding to the queries of ‘young and frivolous’ and is rather scathing and direct in her responses – pointing out quite categorically when people themselves are to be blamed for their problems.
What starts as a one-off impertinence on part of Emmeline, becomes central to the plot of this book. Emmaline takes it on herself to respond to some of these heartbroken, lonely souls – some via letters and some slipped into the magazine innocuously – after all when was the last time Mrs Bird even read the published version to note this minor anomaly.
This book is a story of friendship – Emmeline with her childhood best friend and her room-mate Bunty, of love – Bunty’s with her finance and Emmeline’s with Charlie; It’s a book of an entirely rebellious young girl who is ambitious, independent and yet kind and empathetic; of survival during war and of keeping up the spirit despite the bombs falling around and dear ones dying either at battle front or at home, due to Luftwaffe’s efforts.
Emmeline’s misconduct is discovered when a girl of seventeen runs away with a Polish soldier at her advise and parents blame Mrs Bird. As in every happy book, she finds a saviour in Mr Collins and her best friend and the book ends on a victorious note.
It’s not a frivolous book, but entirely poignant. ” There was something about planning a wedding that felt like one in the eye for Hitler. He could send over as many Luftwaffe planes as he liked, but he couldn’t stop people being in love and everyone getting excited.” People picking up pieces after losing all that is precious to them and yet making a life with what remains.