Their Finest Hour And A Half Hardcover – 2009
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Evans credits Norman Longmate's HOW WE LIVED THEN for sparking her interest in the home front in WW2. But she has clearly absorbed a lot of novels, movies, and magazines of the period, for she has got the language and stock types down pat. It is the same seam that Kate Atkinson mined in LIFE AFTER LIFE, the popular literature of my own childhood. Evans has just about as many plot shifts and rapid gear changes as Atkinson, but she uses them for comedy. This is, after all, the world of make-believe: advertising, propaganda, entertainment, what's the difference? And just about anyone can come along and stick their oar in. So the story of two twin girls who stole their father's boat to assist in the rescue at Dunkirk gets made whether the basic facts are true or not. But they have to add a gallant Tommy boyfriend, the rescue of an abandoned French dog, a drunken uncle who nonetheless manages to save the day despite being mortally wounded -- and, oh yes, at the last-minute insistence of the War Office, a handsome American journalist, wished upon the all-Brit Dunkirk in the hopes of persuading the United States to enter the war.
All this is very funny, actually, and the typed sections of screenplay that pepper the pages look pretty authentic. They are the work of a lonely bachelor named Buckley, his colleague Parfitt who supplies the gags, and, increasingly, a twenty-year old girl named Catrin just up from Wales who gets recruited to do the women's dialogue, otherwise known as "slop." Catrin, who has many more resources than first appear, is the nearest thing to a protagonist the book has, and the story is always interesting when she is on screen. But she is only one of a large number of characters, among them an "aging, enormously conceited, moderately talented" (and tiresome) actor, his hard-pressed agent, an unmarried woman who works for Madame Tussaud's and gets roped in to the wardrobe department, and a mild-mannered male virgin in his thirties who somehow becomes military adviser on the film. Of course the large cast of lovable or at least bizarre comic types is also typical for films of this era, as is the addition of a spoonful or two of pathos and a pinch of tragedy to the general comedy, so Evans is right on the money. But I still prefer the tighter focus of her more recent novel.
Would've thought wartime London, despite daily bombings and innumerable tragedies, large scale and small, could provide such amusement? Catrin, seconded to the Ministry of Information (dis-information?), increasingly realises messages are lost if they don't entertain. Then there is Dunkirk .. how can such disaster entertain? Lissa Evans convinces us that this IS what it was like ... even if, like her film of the Starling sisters' heroic deeds at Dunkirk, it bears little relation to a 'real life' account. There is a deeper truth in their daring, Catrin realises, just as the film reveals and reflects wider truths of the war situation. Evan's characters, dialogue, and recreated adverts and propaganda scripts are convincing, touching, funny and sad in turn..from witty hoot to heart wrench at the sound of a siren.