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47 of 47 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon April 3, 2009
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
Each story -- written and set in England during the Second World War and published in the New Yorker -- is a gem, an example of short stories at their best. Many are witty and all are astute in their observations about human nature and what real everyday people are like.

The stories are set in order of writing (chronologically as the war progressed), and as you read through, you can see the experiences and problems of the British people during the war change.

My mother lived through the Second World War in England, and many of the stories echo what she told me. Fairly late in the book, for example, is a short story about the fairly severe food rationing, which was taking its toll: the central character of one story is a school teacher whose thoughts dwell on food, displacing most other concerns, except, perhaps, jealousy. Chocolate bars are to be eaten privately to avoid having to be shared. Other stories tell about housing shortages, and people living uncomfortably in shared households and trying to make the best of it.

But what I thought is particularly great in these stories is the perfection of the endings -- those last paragraphs should be studied carefully by would-be writers, to see how cleverly the author "sticks the landing." My only complaint was learning that the author apparently wrote relatively few short stories -- she was primarily a journalist.

This book is a rare treat for anyone interested in short stories, war fiction, World War II, or the writing of forgotten women authors.
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32 of 34 people found the following review helpful
on November 22, 2008
Format: Paperback
Usually when one reads a book about England during the Second World War it focuses on the soldiers, or life in London. Panter-Downes writes short stories about those who are indirectly affected by the war: wives, parents, refugees. No story is directly about the war but focuses on the little things, the womens societies that keep meeting, the friends who disappear, the thatched roof of the chicken coop. All the things that keep happening despite the war that's being battled on the continent.
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on November 2, 2010
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
Reading the stories in this book feels like eating the same piece of candy over and over again. If you're crazy about the flavor, it's a treat. But if you like it only so-so, it gets tedious. I made it halfway through the book before I found it hard going. The writing is skillful, the subject intriguing, the characterization very well done. But there is no variation. The same moments of epiphany are arrived at over and over. Perhaps it's better to read these stories not all at once, one after the other, like I did, but to dip into the book from time to time, as you would with a volume of poems. That might be more enjoyable.
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26 of 29 people found the following review helpful
on November 21, 2006
Format: Paperback
What a delightful surprise these little stories were- so witty and wise and utterly readable. A true treat.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on January 24, 2010
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
These short stories--three to ten pages or so each--let us experience World War II from the standpoint of Britons in England. We meet a few soldiers, but most of the characters are women, trying to create lives and and families in wartime. Some of the stories reflect Panter-Downes upper class upbringing.--country ladies inviting London children into their houses or chatting with each other as they sew bandages--but others take let us see the anguish in the soul of ordinary Britons, like a woman trying to say good bye to her husband at the end of a week-long leave. This book is part of a series being published "for women" but I'm a guy, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Highly recommended.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon July 8, 2010
Format: Paperback
Good Evening Mrs. Craven is a collection of 21 short stories that Mollie Panter-Downes wrote for The New Yorker during the war years. Although she was English and lived in Surrey for most of her life, her work both as a short story writer and as a journalist has been virtually forgotten in England; and yet she was a prolific writer, writing over 800 pieces for The New Yorker during her career.

Mollie Panter-Downes's stories are vignettes that focus on short moments in the day of average Britons during the war. None of these people is particularly remarkable, but they live in extraordinary times, and how they cope with that is what's so fascinating about this collection. From country housewives serving on Red Cross committees and housing evacuees, to young working women surviving the London Blitz, to a spinster who fantasizes about the food she can't have, to an old Major who looks forward with relish to the fighting (even though he can't join in), these stories are funny and poignant at the same time.

The characters in these stories are very loosely connected to one another, and only one appears more than once (Mrs. Ramsay, the housewife, whose reflections on her circumstances are brilliantly funny; I wish Panter-Downes had written more stories featuring her). The most moving of these stories is the title story, "Good Evening Mrs. Craven," in which a mistress (mistakenly called Mrs. Craven by a maitre d' at a restaurant) has to mourn her lover in secret. These stories have been published here in the order that they were published, and throughout the book you can see the war unfold. Although each story is only a few pages, the characters are very well rounded; in fact, there's so much material here that the author could have written a full-length novel centering around any one of them. I don't normally read much in the way of short stories, but this collection is top-notch.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on April 24, 2010
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
These charming, understated, funny, and not infrequently heartbreaking stories give us a glimpse into life in home-front Britain during the Second World War. They are largely written about people of the upper middle class (and their associations with servants and working class evacuees)--people who had wartime jobs with the government or the armed services, and those who had the trying job of trying to hold things together as people and supplies disappeared. They are therefore often, but not exclusively, about women.

If you enjoyed "The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society," of which I was reminded by this set of stories, then you will very likely enjoy "Good Evening Mrs. Craven." Highly recommended.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on March 9, 2010
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Carefully limned stories about life for women on the homefront in England during WWII. With great economy, the stories describe the changes and challenges faced--living with evacuees, coping with the lack of menfolk, dealing with shortages of food and just about everything else, the comraderie of the Blitz, and economic and social dislocations. Journalist Mollie Panter-Downes skillfully portrays in fiction what she herself experienced and wrote about in her Letters From London in The New Yorker.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Format: Paperback
GOOD EVENING MRS CRAVEN by Mollie Panter-Downes is a series of wartime stories set in Britain during the Second World War. Like most British people, Ms. Panter-Downes writes fluently and well, and renders the ordinary world in closely observed snapshots. For example:

Everyone got wedged into the room somehow, bibs were hitched round necks, and a subterranean wheezing located Mrs. Parmenter's little fellows right under their patron's chair. Mrs. Ramsay, carving the lamb and listening to the nurses babbling of cardigan patterns, thought moodily that this kind of thing might go on for years.

Ms. Panter-Downes stories become darker as the war grinds on. GOODBYE MY LOVE is about the touching parting of a young man and a young woman. When the young man unexpectedly reappears, she bursts into floods of tears, because she will have to say `goodbye' to him all over again. GOOD EVENING MRS. CRAVEN is about the heartbreak of being the `other woman' when your man has gone off to war. Your man is not actually your man, and another woman is his wife, and the relationship is secret (or supposed to be so), getting any news is almost impossible. Unless you resort to subterfuge. THE HUNGER OF MISS BURTON tackles an issue that would have been all-too-familiar to the people who survived through that war. Miss Burton is adult and female, and as such is supposed not to take more than her fair share, leaving the leftovers for the children. But she is so hungry! IT'S THE REACTION is perhaps the saddest story of all, about another adult single female, who yearns for another bomb to drop so that her neighbors will come out of their shells and include her in their lives. Without a crisis, her life is so, so, heartbreakingly, lonely.

There is triviality mixed in with tragedy, pettiness with kindness and the usual day-to-day problems wound together with the reality of war. If you want to know more about the war, and what life was like, these stories provide a good introduction. But you won't learn much about the characters who inhabit these stories. Though well-defined, they remain largely private. (How English.) Four stars.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on March 2, 2013
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
The rhythms of entire lives, caught and compressed into the small and pressured intervals of wartime London. Is anyone so good at the great impact of subtle, amusing details than the British writer. Mollie Panter-Downes was extraordinarily good. These brief glimpses are whole novels, about people whose existence was heightened, raised, and more often than not, dropped. Let down by changing circumstance. An older woman, living alone and lonely, finds companionship, affection and happy routine, when her fellow apartment-dwellers are forced to sleep in the halls during the Blitz. Making cocoa, trading knitting patterns--and then the bombing is over, the neighbors go back into their apartments to sleep, and she has no idea how to ever bring such a thing into her life again.

Ironies abound. A woman sees her husband off to war, only to receive an overjoyed phone call twenty-four hours later, Darling, I've been delayed! Above all, it feels life—this is one of those great little books that rings so true, that it thrills, it affirms. Perhaps because it's also very funny. Perhaps that's it.
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