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?

  • Very interesting. I’ve had this on my list since Litlove’s review as well, and I am a big fan of the tragi-comedy. (It often appeals to me more than the all-out comedy.)

  • I love that rewriting bit. I’ve always wanted a rewind button myself!

  • I, too, love the rewriting bit. I may try it myself. Taking an incident or conversation, replaying it, but changing the outcome. What a good way to analyze, reconsider, examine more than one point of view, and determine where events got off track and make adjustments. It would be a great exercise in adapting future behavior and accepting and ameliorating a situation mentally.

  • Mumsy

    The rewrite reminds me of this:
    http://www.notthatkindofgirl.net/2010/08/20/tkog-pays-break/

    Because that is the best rewrite of all time.

  • She

    Hmmm, I think writing funny novels about sad times falls on a thin line, and has to be handled with care. I’m glad this one seemed to work out though!

  • I love the sound of this! I don’t normally like historical novels but something like this wouldn’t massively bother me as the story is so inventive. Great review!!

    • Yes, it’s definitely not the standard World War II story. One of the characters–and I wished more had been done with this–worked as a costumer at Madame Tussaud’s! But she almost immediately gets bombed and leaves London. :/