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Good Evening, Mrs Craven: The Wartime Stories of Mollie Panter-Downes (Persephone Classics) Paperback – December 31, 2009

4.5 out of 5 stars 22 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Mollie Panter-Downes (1906-97) was brought up by her mother in Sussex. She published her first novel, The Shoreless Sea, when she was seventeen, which was a bestseller. She wrote three more popular novels as well as articles, short stories, and the very popular column, Letters from London, for the New Yorker.
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Product Details

  • Series: Persephone Classics
  • Paperback: 238 pages
  • Publisher: Persephone Books; Revised edition (December 31, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1906462011
  • ISBN-13: 978-1906462017
  • Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 0.9 x 7.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #265,503 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By M. C. Crammer VINE VOICE on April 3, 2009
Format: Paperback Verified 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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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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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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By Philip Leetch 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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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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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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