I haven’t been reading any short story collection for quite a while, and this one went down like a breeze, just as great as I’d expected. Why hadn’t I read it earlier? The plan for the next few months is to read
all some of those excellent books that have been sitting on my shelves for way too long, especially when because I expect them to be good.
How come books that I think will be less than great get priority over the great ones? Obviously I’m doing something wrong. Let’s retrace my steps:
step 1 – The Persephone catalogue is such a treat. Ooh, I soo enjoyed Mollie Panter-Downes Wartime stories, if the peacetime stories are half as good I must have them (I order the book).
step 2 – Look at this perfect Persephone volume that just made its way on my doorstep. Let’s read the first few pages. Oooh, they’re good indeed! But wait, reading them all in a hurry wouldn’t honor their value, I should take my time to savour them properly. Besides I’m right in the middle of x-y-z, I can’t possibly read it right now. Let’s put it next to its Persephone sisters and wait for a good time to read it (the book disappears from my view, dust starts to pile up)
Yes, I know, waiting for a special occasion is pretty stupid. It took me 5 years between the Wartime stories and the Peacetime stories. Mollie Panter-Downes shouldn’t be kept waiting. Her stories are subtle little gems that just need 15 minutes of attention. Even with a baby I can manage those 15 minutes somehow, can’t I? (please don’t burst that bubble of optimism)
Those stories she wrote in the late 1940s and 1950s portray British upper middle class men and women faced with the disappearance of their world. The pre-war days were not coming back, even if the war was over. They had little money left, still had food shortages, the servants quit (or hadn’t returned from the war), they had to sell their large home and move to tiny flats, their children decided to marry working-class people, but they kept their wit and stiff upper lip, even in the middle of heartbreak. They had to make concessions to the times, adapt, emigrate or they would just disappear too, as the last witnesses of another era. Mollie Panter-Downes watch these harsh evolutions from the intimacy of the home, in the tiny details of everyday life.
Of course, you may say that “these people” were privileged in the first place, that they’d only got too comfortable before, and that misalliance or servants issues were nothing compared to the real tragedies of war, death and destruction. But still, one cannot dismiss it all the same, and Panter-Downes makes sure that we care.
I haven’t lived this postwar era, but it somehow reminded me of the same kind of upheaval in the workplace, when the old barons of traditional industry suddenly had to face the fact that office work was not like in the good old days (not sure when exactly it did happen). They didn’t have a secretary to type their letters anymore, sometimes they were stripped of their private little office and had to adapt to an open plan office. They had to learn to use a computer, were expected to manage their agendas by themselves, work faster and more creatively than ever before. Of course, they had fat pays and privileges in the beginning (and they mostly kept their jobs until retirement), but I couldn’t help but feel sorry for them (well, most of the times).
Now I’m very curious about other books by Molly Panter-Downes, has anyone read them?