Seventy-five years ago this month, hundreds of German bombers crossed the Channel to begin the devastating bombing campaign which would become known as the Blitz. Amongst the fear and terror of living in London during the period was also an undoubted electricity and excitement. In her account of writers during the Blitz, The Love-Charm of Bombs, Lara Feigel says “each moment had the exhilarating yet unreal intensity of the last moment on earth”.
It was this intensity, electricity and excitement that Graham Greene harnessed for his classic The End of the Affair – in which a man’s affair with a married woman amongst the rubble of Clapham turns from love to obsession. Greene’s contemporary Elizabeth Bowen once commented that “everybody in London was in love ” during the Blitz, and her novel The Heat of the Dayfollowing Stella, who is caught up in a love triangle between an intelligence officer and a suspected spy – is often seen as literature’s finest evocation of the period.
I remember being harrowed as a child by the London scenes in Michelle Magorian’s Goodnight Mister Tom, in which an evacuee returns to the city only to find himself locked up when the bombs start raining down. For a more light-hearted take on the Blitz, Human Voices by Penelope Fitzgerald – based on the author’s own experiences – paints a whimsical picture of the era through the workers in the BBC Broadcasting House, and Greene’s The Ministry of Fear is a fun if not a little ridiculously-plotted wartime thriller.
by Patrick Power