I don’t recall where or what I first heard about this book, but as the last in a long line of Mrs. Birds and the author of an epistolary work in progress, I had to investigate. Likewise elusive is the memory of any book that so utterly delighted me with its unadulterated charm, where goodnatured families, kindhearted friends, and generous stangers prevail. Unabashedly optimistic, Dear Mrs. Bird labors under no grim modernist necessity of adhering to stark realism.
Well, yes, there is a war going on in 1940 London, where Emmeline Lake is a volunteer in the Auxiliary Fire Service. Throughout the first half of the book, lulled into near complacency by Pearce’s lilting wordcraft, her mastery (as near as I can tell) of WWII-era British diction, and Emmy’s relentless good cheer, I felt an occasional twinge of guilt. Should I really be enjoying this so much? After all, people are losing lives and livelihoods right and left in the Luftwaffe’s nightly bombing raids. Are Emma, AJ, and I all in a state of denial?
But as it turns out, Ms. Pearce does know what she is about. And without denigrating British courage and determination to put a good face on the worst of times, the narrative comes around to acknowledging that (not to give too much away) yes, it is important to recognize when one’s back is up against the wall and to give oneself a little grace.
The inevitable tragedy does fall, though it doesn’t take any of the forms I had foreseen–not, at least, until it was almost upon us. The plot resolution similarly succeeded in surprising me, with only a touch of readily forgiven implausibility.
I wish I had discovered this book during the aforementioned stretches when I was avoiding Laurus (for that review click here). I can well imagine that for pandemic readers Dear Mrs. Bird would have been heartening indeed. Even though the worst of COVID is essentially behind us, what with headlines decrying the climate crisis, the threat of escalating war between Russia and Ukraine, and any number of other global and personal disasters, many of us still live with the sense of looming catastrophe. Dear Mrs Bird offers fiction’s best antidote, that is, escape to a world designed by a benevolent author. One abounding in depictions of decency and genuine caring for one’s fellow human beings. Tragedy may strike but, against all appearances and probabilities, things always work out for the best.
I was delighted to see that the sequel suggested by the conclusion is already in print and, calloo, callay, the third installment in The Emmy Lake Chronicles, Mrs. Porter Calling, is to be released in just a few days (August 8, 2023).