It’s late 1944. Allied victory is on its way, but it’s ruddy well dragging its feet. Hitler’s rockets are slamming down on London with vicious regularity and it’s the coldest winter in living memory. In a large house next to Hampstead Heath, Vera Sedge is just about scraping by, with a household of lodgers to feed, and her young ward Noel (almost fifteen) to clothe and educate. When she witnesses a road accident and finds herself in court, the effects are both unexpectedly marvellous, and potentially deadly, because Vee is not actually the person she’s pretending to be, and neither is Noel.
The end of the war won’t just mean peace, but discovery, and not in the way any of them could ever expect.
I was trying to pinpoint exactly what it was that I liked so much about V for Victory but came to the conclusion that it was a veritable mix of characterisation and scene setting.
You couldn’t forget Evan’s wonderful characters, normal on the outside, but with a hidden mystery that lurked just below the surface.
Vee, or Margery Overs, head of the Green Shutters boarding house, seemed older than her approaching 40 years Evans led us to believe. You could understand why, five years in London, in the Blitz would age anyone, but there was something else that Evans kept carefully under wraps until she felt we and the story were ready. Vee was dependable, stoic, a great ‘Aunt’ to Noel her young charge. You wanted her to have some fun, some joy, to be able to leave her troubles if only for a short time. Evans didn’t let me down although it came at a price as the American GI entered her life quite by accident. It was the excuse Evans needed to give us a glimpse into her past, but also to leave it behind, to relax and seek some enjoyment.
Her young charge, Noel was a wonderful mix of youthful naivety and intelligence, traditional schooling abandoned as the boarders taught him their own specialised subjects. His various quotes and knowledge were interspersed throughout, and added to the serious intensity of his nature. You understood why as Evans revealed his childhood. I loved that he was a wonderful cook, could turn the meagre rations into delicious meals.
I think the character that most resonated was Winnie, head of air raid post 9. Respected by her colleagues, she was hardworking, conscientious, and extremely capable given the magnitude of her job. Her bravery, and skills in the face of so much destruction as V2 bombs and rockets fell from the sky was brilliantly portrayed by Evans. The fear and trepidation she must have felt was replaced by a selfless responsibility to her colleagues and those who fell victim to the falling bombs. Evans didn’t forget that she also had a personal life, a twin sister who didn’t quite ‘get’ her job who lived a life of wealth and luxury, and a husband trapped in a prisoner of war camp. Newly married, with little time to truly know each other, you could forgive her dismissiveness towards his mundane letters, product of a bored prison camp existence. It was Evans way to show us the lack of knowledge, of true news that didn’t exist in a world that lacked today’s internet and rolling 24hr news channels.
Their stories briefly cris crossed, as they meandered their individual ways through Hitler’s last hurrah. Evans gave us a sense of the changes to come, as Vee and Noel came to terms with the past, as Winnie acknowledged her future would need patience and understanding if she and her husband were to be happy, to succeed.
Perhaps Evan’s greatest triumph was her truly wonderful depiction of a London at war. The imagery was fantastic, as you felt each thud and vibration of the falling bombs, the trepidation of those close by who wondered if this time it would destroy their home. You couldn’t escape from the magnitude of Hitler’s wrath, of the fallen and crumpled buildings, of those forced to live in the ruins in the depths of winter.
The human suffering was immense, yet Evans always infused her narrative with a sense of optimism, as her characters grasped pleasure when it appeared and held on to a promise of a brighter future.
V For Victory was an utter triumph and one I shall remember for a long time to come.
I would like to thank Doubleday for a copy of V For Victory to read and review and to Anne Cater of Random Things Tours for inviting My Bookish Blogspot to participate in the blogtour.
About the author
Lissa Evans has written books for both adults and children, including
Their Finest Hour and a Half, longlisted for the Orange (now Women’s)
Prize, Small Change for Stuart, shortlisted for many awards including the
Carnegie Medal and the Costa Book Awards and Crooked Heart, longlisted for the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction.
OLD BAGGAGE was a sell-out Waterstone’s Book of the Month; THEIR
FINEST HOUR AND A HALF was adapted into a star-studded film with
Gemma Arterton and Bill Nighy