Their Finest Hour and a Half, Lissa Evans

Forgive the probable idiocy and inanity of this review. I read Their Finest Hour and a Half a few weeks ago, and now it is hard for me to remember things about it. It is a funny book–I kept saying “comic book” but that’s not really want I meant–about London during the Blitz. More or less, it centers on a propaganda film the British Ministry of Information is making. The characters are Edith, a seamstress and aspiring clothing designer who keeps getting bombed out; Ambrose, an aging film actor only interested in himself; and Catrin, an artist’s wife, newly tapped to write women’s dialogue on propaganda films.

When I started reading, I felt that the characters were a little obvious, and I carried on feeling that way throughout most of the book. Not to say that I didn’t get fond of them, but part of that was me being sentimental about Britain in wartime, and being fond of them didn’t mean I didn’t feel I’d seen them all before. They are painted with broad strokes, and while they mostly avoid being types, they don’t quite solidify into people.

That objection out of the way, I am very very fond of Britain in wartime, and the central story was good enough, funny enough, and touching enough to keep me reading. The newspapers pick up a story about twin sisters who take their father’s boat out to Dunkirk to rescue soldiers. Catrin goes to interview them and discovers, first of all, that they are utterly under the thumb of their tyrannical father, and second, that the story is a fiction from start to finish (though not invented by the sisters). Sorry for them, and aware of their great fondness for films, Catrin goes back and suggests a film be written about them; and she finds herself on its writing staff. This wasn’t the only story being carried on, but it was my favorite one, and I think calling it the central one is fair.

Before I started reading, and having completely forgotten the “tragi-” part of Litlove‘s review of Their Finest Hour and a Half, I wondered how Lissa Evans was going to manage to be comedic all throughout a book set in Britain during World War II. Britain during World War II was pretty sad, and anyway I am working on this theory about how sustaining book-length comedy is incredibly difficult and only achievable by a very small group of people. But some quite tragic events occur early on, thereby setting the tone for the kind of light-hearted humor that you can have in the middle of tragic events, if you are able to pay attention to small, funny things.

My absolute favorite scene is when one of the characters rewrites something that happened to her, an encounter that did not go the way she wished it had gone, and gives it a better ending. It’s touching, and I like it that she uses writing to resolve the unsatisfactoriness of real life. That is my strategy also. Not to say that real life cooperates completely with the character in question, but I was much in sympathy with the attempt.

Other reviews:

Tales from the Reading Room (thanks for the recommendation!)

Anyone else?

Lonely Werewolf Girl, Martin Millar

I was very skeptical about Martin Millar. I heard about Martin Millar from Neil Gaiman’s website, because he (Neil Gaiman) wrote an introduction to The Good Fairies of New York extolling its manifold virtues, so I got it from the library because I liked the title. I didn’t expect much out of it. The last time I trusted Neil Gaiman’s opinion, I read four books by Jonathan Carroll and hated them all desperately. (Yes, the obvious question is why did I read four of them then, and the answer is, I’ve no idea, it was long ago and I can’t remember. I think I hoped that the previous ones were just flukes and I would soon come to love Jonathan Carroll – like when I first read Diana Wynne Jones’s books and hated them – but that never happened.) So I didn’t think I was going to like Martin Millar either.

But I was so, so wrong. Martin Millar is a delight. I want to give Martin Millar a hug because his books please me so much. The Good Fairies of New York was charming, and they found a flower.

Lonely Werewolf Girl is better, however. Which is partly because it’s longer, so there’s more of it to charm me, and partly because all the threads of subplots come together really nicely at the end. It’s about a werewolf girl called Kalix who is very, very dysfunctional and the youngest daughter of the royal MacLannach werewolf family, and all the dreadful and exciting things that befall her family. There are many subplots. They dovetail beautifully at the twins’ gig when the werewolves have a great big knock-down-drag-out. It’s all very impressive.

The thing about Martin Millar’s books, at least the two that I’ve read – which is definitely not enough to qualify me to state this opinion about Martin Millar’s books generally, but is also not my fault because I live in a city in the Deep South where despite the surprisingly wonderful public library system there is a dearth of contemporary British fiction – is that he is very fond of that traditional British humor mechanism in which everything goes spectacularly to hell. In fact I read a study one time that said that British people love sitcoms like Fawlty Towers where things start from a point of order and then descend into chaos, whereas American people – something else that I don’t remember. Anyway, this kind of humor sometimes gives me stressful feelings, but with Martin Millar, I have faith that everything will iron itself out.

Besides which there is just something very sweet about this book. And Good Fairies. They make me want to go enjoy other sweet things, like the Brownings’ letters to each other, and that episode of Angel where he first has little baby Connor and defends him from the vampire cults, and that episode of Buffy where she gets an award at her prom and it always makes me cry, and that book we had when I was little about the persnickety old lady who learns valuable lessons about love from a little Christmas angel. Which, um, may not have been what Martin Millar intended when he wrote it.

Edit to add: I discovered Martin Millar’s blog, and it sounds like he does a lot of reveling in the joy that is Buffy. (Like me.) A man after my own heart.