By Phyllis Bottome
THIS story of a London docker’s family living and enduring under the blitzkrieg of ‘’Itler’s bombs’ is an extraordinarily difficult book to review or evaluate properly. One’s sympathies are immediately claimed by the various members of this slum family of ignorant, undernourished opportunists held together and fused into unity by ‘Ma,’ a charwoman who does her duty by her children and by her husband, a morose dockhand Communist. There is a tough fibre in all of them. They are only a little above the beasts and only a little lower than the angels. As you read, you hope and pray that they will come through their hideous trials and sufferings intact, and this interest sustains you until they reach at least temporary safety at the end.
So far the author has achieved her purpose. Her characters are distinct and clear. The interest in their welfare is continuous and sustained. And, of course, this interest that one conceives for these stubbornly courageous, ignorant, poor people is poignant to a degree. The author is entirely successful in wringing the heartstrings and in telling the story.
One feels that this book, for its many merits and its obvious appeal, will be cagerly and tearfully read. Yet it would be unfair not to comment on its several grave detects. In the first place, according to London Pride everyone under severe bombing is courageous. That simply is not so. Nervous systems are shattered, brave men and women run screaming in circles, but there is no hint of such behavior in this book. In the second place, while the sentimentality manages in most instances to ‘get across,’ nevertheless it is sentimentality. And it verges on cloying. And how could so experienced and able a writer as Miss Bottome have printed a letter from an evacuated Cockney child in which the alleged text is phonetic? ‘ Abaht’ for ‘about,’ ‘aht’ for ‘out,’ ‘garn,’ and so forth — all the noises which Cockney children probably make, but not the words they write in their infantile letters. One cannot help feeling that Miss Bottome has yielded to the spell of her infinitely pathetic and moving story, and under that spell has written several degrees lower than her usual high standard as a literary craftsman.
R. E. D.