I chose to read this collection of short stories by Mollie Panter-Downes before I even knew there would be a Persephone Reading event this weekend; I’m glad I found Verity’s blog just in time to take part!
So, a few words about ‘Good evening, Mrs. Craven’! I started by reading the preface (something I often skip) and Gregory LeStage’s insight into Mollie Panter-Downes background and the style in which she wrote these stories was interesting and enlightening. Since I had somewhat ambivalent experiences with short stories I was glad to see that the stories collected in this volume are very easy to read and ‘digest’ – something that seems to me is rarely the case with this genre.
My favourite story by far is ‘Mrs. Ramsey’s war’ because of the dry and sarcastic and sometimes very funny little comments Mrs. Ramsey thinks to herself while maintaining a pleasant façade towards her somewhat unwelcome house guests.
“… Mrs. Parmenter came in, carrying a bunch of snowdrops in one hand and a small vase in the other. ‘I just had to run out between the showers and get a few,’ she said. ‘ A room never looks like home without flowers, don’t you agree, dear?’ Mrs. Ramsey thought it would take the Chelsea Flower Show to make this one feel like home…”
Mrs. Ramsey is featured in two other stories (At least that’s how I read it) and both describe a meeting of a sewing circle at Mrs. Ramsey’s house. Here, too, Mrs. Ramsey’s dry observations made these two pieces a joy to read but above all both ‘Battle of the Greeks’ and ‘Literary Scandal at the Sewing party’ give a glimpse of everyday life far away from any fighting but nonetheless affected by the war.
All in all, I really liked Mollie Panter-Downes style and the fact that the stories deal with people and their lives and feelings. Her stories tell about personal tragedies, fears and conflicts that are very human and puts ordinary people living in England in the center of the attention not the political dimensions and the violence of the war. Those are there, in the background, but the reader only experiences them through the eyes and emotions of the people.
On a side note: Just like Col Reads mentioned in her post, I bought ‘Good evening Mrs. Craven’ after watching ‘The King’s speech’ and I’m glad I chose this as my first Persephone Book!