My review of Carrie’s War

My monthly newsletter book reviews can be found on my Reviews of What I’m Reading page. Given I read more than one book a month, I leave other reviews here on my blog.

Here’s my review of Carrie’s War

This is hardly a new book and was in fact first published in 1974. It’s a timeless book, however.

Find Carrie’s War here

In my role with Dean Scribblers here in the Forest of Dean, I find myself in primary school classrooms learning with the kids about the impact of both world wars on the Forest, among other bits of history. (We then work with them to turn these learnings into stories and produce anthologies of their finished work, but that’s not the point here.)

The Forest was the destination for many evacuees from London and other big cities, and the children are always fascinated to discuss what it must have been like for them to come to a place which had little in the way of comforts like flushing toilets and gas heaters. Or even electricity. What it could offer was an endless playground of beech and oak, fresh food and pretty much freedom from the fear of being bombed.

Carrie’s War is set in a Welsh rural village with many likenesses to the Forest, and 14-year-old Carrie and her 10-year-old brother Nick are evacuees from London. They live with the local shopkeeper and stern chapel-goer Mr Evans and his very much younger sister Lou, whom they call Auntie Lou. Auntie Lou is as kind as Mr Evans is a bully, and terrified of her older sibling. Nick immediately decides he hates Mr Evans and loves Auntie Lou, while Carrie tries to understand what might be behind the man’s mean nature and is more forgiving.
Then the children discover there is a third sibling, Mrs Gotobed, an invalid who lives in the mysteriously named and ancient Druid’s Bottom and is cared for by the warm and loving Hepzibah Green. Hepzibah always seems to know when they are about to arrive and how many fresh eggs to cook and scones to bake. She also cares for Mister Johnny, who talks in ‘gobbledygook’ language due to a facial disfigurement and is ‘simple’.

When Mrs Gotobed dies, a string of events unfolds which culminate in Carrie taking desperate action. She believes what she does has far reaching, and dire, consequences and it takes her 30 years to return to face what she put in train. I have to confess I wept a little at the end, which is exactly the right way to finish this book.

Nina Bawden’s tale is vividly told: the characters jump off the page-I could see every one of them in my mind’s eye though her descriptions are sparse; the scene setting brings the houses in particular alive, especially Hepzibah’s warm, bread-scented kitchen; and the story moves along very nicely. The contrast between Carrie’s emotional turmoil about Mr Evans and Nick’s one dimensional view of the man makes for an appealing protagonist (although we might agree with Nick!). The Auntie Lou sub plot is a delight, as is the young love which may or may not blossom between Carrie and the slightly older and far more practical evacuee Albert.

I’m taking my copy of Carrie’s War into a school I’m visiting and I know the children will thoroughly enjoy it, and be able to relate.