Are we the same as the war generation?

13 March 2009

Just finished reading One Fine Day by Mollie Panter-Downes, a rather wonderful short novel published just after the Second World War. The novel largely describes in lyrical, humorous and incisive detail one hot summer’s day in the life of a housewife living in a rural village just after the war. For me, the book was reminiscent of Mrs Dalloway but far, far better than Woolf’s snobbish, fey novel. Laura, the housewife, has a husband commuting into London, having just been demobbed, and a young daughter. The book describes her domestic life, the little details of cooking, doing the laundry, visiting the shops, running errands, looking for a lost dog, lying on the grass and falling asleep, but interweaves these with memories of the war, attaining almost a stream-consciousness quality. You really are living her life with her as you read: the effect is compelling even though very little happens. It was interesting to see the similarities and differences between domestic life then, immediately post-war, and now, in our more technological society. There was a leisurely pace, a sense of community but also a massive sense of loss: all the old strictures and values had vanished with the war. The servants, the sense of decorum, the social roles were all different. That unease has never left us in our status-anxious times.

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