This third installment of the Emmy Lake Chronicles is a delightful choice for the long evenings and short, cloudy days of winter.
It’s 1943 London, and Emmy’s new husband is away fighting fascists offstage. The Blitz, fore-fronted in Dear Mrs. Bird, is now in the background. But enough bombings are still taking place to precipitate a tragedy among Emmy’s closest comrades. In its aftermath, Emmy, her neighbors, and we as readers wrestle with the fallout of war.
But as usual, Woman’s Friend has other causes to rally round as well. This time the staff must save save their beloved publication from the devastating “improvements” designed by its new owner, Mrs. Porter.
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?