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September 2017

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Dickens

Crooked Heart, Lissa Evans

crookedheart

This book from the library has a quote on the cover from India Knight: ‘I’m putting Crooked Heart on the shelf of my most treasured books, between I Capture the Castle and The Pursuit of Love …I couldn’t love it more.’
This is very misleading. If you were to think this book is remotely like either of those old favourites, or that it could hold the same place in your heart, you’d be doomed to disappointment. But, like Ms Knight, I did love this book; so much that I didn’t want to finish it.

It’s about wartime and people who live on the edge. Lissa Evans has a wonderful ability to evoke a sense of time and place and to create remarkable characters. I defy anyone not to fall for the child, Noel. At ten years old, he’s been living in Hampstead with his godmother, Mattie, a former suffragette. She talks to him as if he were an adult so, not surprisingly, he’s very precocious for his age. Poland was being invaded and the summer holidays were almost over. On the Saturday before the start of the Michaelmas term, Noel went to the library. He had read every Lord Peter Wimsey on the shelves, and every Albert Campion. The tall librarian with the moustache suggested he tried a thriller instead of a detective story. ‘You’ll find Eric Ambler very good,’ she said.’ Mattie doesn’t want him to be evacuated and Noel doesn’t want to go. Eventually he has to and finds himself boarded with Vee in St Albans. Vee is a mercurial character who never has enough money and is always looking for ways to make more, not always honestly. She’s confused by Noel, whom she accuses of talking Latin at her, but finds that when it comes to managing in wartime, he’s sharper than she is.

There is another plotline, about Vee’s son and his dishonest activities but it’s the Noel/Vee relationship which matters. The book shows the other side of the ‘in the war we all pulled together’ memory which people like. This is a world of spivs, skivers and dishonest ARP wardens who steal from bombed houses. ‘Everybody’s at it,’ is the attitude. For all his apparent sophistication, Noel nearly gets himself into great danger, alone in London during the Blitz. Surprisingly, considering her usual selfishness, Vee worries about him: ‘He’s ten years old!’ She hunts for him and the odd couple find a way of creating a new life together. This book is funny, sad, poignant, utterly beguiling. I want everyone to read it.

Comments

(Anonymous)

Sounds like an excellent read. I hate it when I like a book so much that I can't wait to finish it to find out what happens but at the same time I want it to go on forever. That may be why I like trilogies or series where you meet new characters in each book but the older ones pop in and out as the stories progress.
Wee sister
Yes! I would certainly like to know more about Noel and Vee.
That does sound like a cracking read. I like anything wartime, as you probably know. I shall add it to my 'must read' list :)
It's brilliant!
I loved Odd One Out and Spencer's List. Haven't had the chance to read Their Finest Hour and a Half yet, but will certainly be on the lookout for this book!
I think Lissa Evans is a terrific writer.

If you wonder why I've been using the Dickens icon, it's because young Noel has read Dickens, too!

(Anonymous)

Crooked Heart

Thanks for this review. I looked up 'Crooked Heart' in our local library catalogue and found it available) as an audio book. I've just finished listening to it (brilliantly read by Jo Unwin) and I absolutely adored it, I'm recommending to all my friends ... especially those who can remember the War, and I'm so grateful to you to bringing it to my attention.
Would you recommend any other Lissa Evans books? I looked them up and they all seem a bit chick-litty.

Re: Crooked Heart

I'm so glad! Feedback like yours makes reviewing worthwhile.

I very much enjoyed Their Finest Hour and a Half, which I reviewed here. It's also about the war.