Crooked Heart by Lissa Evans

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Crooked Heart tells the tale of Noel Bostock, twice abandoned and then evacuated in the mass exodus from London of September 1939, he finds himself billeted with Vera Sedge and her hapless son , Donald, in St Albans.

This book came as an unexpected pleasure to me. I had wondered what I might make of it. Instead it is a refreshingly light-hearted and warm hearted tale , very similar in atmosphere to The Otterbury Incident by Cecil Day- Lewis.

Evans gives us a picture of wartime London not often acknowledged.One in which some men are actively trying to avoid being called up and are willing to pay to do so ; one in which bombed-out houses are ransacked for hidden valuables and air-raid wardens collude with the thieves.

It is hard to believe today how little attention was paid to the welfare of the child evacuees wrenched away from home and sent to live with strangers. No background checks were done on the hosts who were selected by the authorities on the grounds of perceived available bed space. Children were stood in a church or school hall to be chosen by the  hosts. Just like my father at that time, Noel finds himself unchosen at the end of the session and so is marched round to a local household and foisted on Vera. Luckily she is a much more benign guardian than the woman my poor Dad ended up with and together Noel and Vee embark on a series of adventures around the N London suburbs.

Evans captures entirely the bewilderment of a child like Noel. Already orphaned, he is removed from the care of his godmother , Mattie, as she descends into dementia only to be parachuted into a life with strangers. Although narrated, the story is seen through Noel’s eyes and therefore will probably appeal to the ‘ young adult’ market as well.

Noel stood by the side of the lane, next to Ada, and watched the billeting officer talk to the scrawny women in the headscarf. He was so tired that his eyes kept closing and then jerking open again, so that the scene jerked forward like a damaged film.

‘…..and you get ten and sixpence a week,’ he heard the billeting officer say.’ More if he’s a bed-wetter.’

She looks nice,’ said Ada hopefully. She had said this about every housewife they’d seen that day, and they’d probably seen a hundred. After a morning in the Mason’s Hall, during which the smaller and prettier children had been picked off, a crocodile of the plain and badly dressed had been marched from door to door in a widening spiral, gradually leaving the centre of the town behind.

India Knight has called Crooked Heart the best book she has read in 2014. I found it a welcome change to the usually downbeat atmosphere of modern fiction. I defy you not to have a tear in your eye by the end of it.

Crooked Heart is published by Doubleday. My thanks to Alison Barrow for the review copy.

 

15 thoughts on “Crooked Heart by Lissa Evans

  1. I really enjoyed this novel as well and got emotional at the end. You’re right it is hard to imagine today children being brought to the homes of strangers like this. I guess it was a more trusting and/or desperate time!

  2. Sounds like a lovely engaging novel, the evacuation of children was I suppose an enormous operation. There were no doubt plenty of good experiences but probably many like your father’s too.

  3. My goddaughters might like this book, especially if you feel it would suit young adults. I’m starting to worry about your father’s wartime experience as it sounds somewhat distressing…

    • I think young adults would like this book …..i think the author has written several ‘YA’novels before ( altho i do detest those labels). My poor Dad did have a terrible time when he was evacuated…luckily he was rescued by my grandma ( no mean feat for an uneducated working class woman) who marched up to the temporary school and went mad at the Head. Happily he was then moved to a farm where he was v happy for a couple of months but my grandma had been so traumatised by it she brought him back to London …..just in time for the Blitz!! Interestingly, he was in the same evacuation party as Michael Caine …..altho thats not his real name ( despite the catchphrase!)

  4. I really liked Lissa Evans’ books before she went down the YA path, and I like the sound of this this. Coming from Cornwall we were at the opposite end of the evacuee chain, and my mother stayed in touch with her mother’s evacuees for many years.

    • It really is an enjoyable read. To be fair i suppose the authorities thought to stay in London ( and other major cities) was a bigger risk……. But yes now it is just min boggling !

  5. Pingback: Crooked Heart – Lissa Evans | The Writes of Woman

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