Dear Mrs Bird is a novel that I’ve been hearing a lot about recently, and I was thrilled to be able to read and review this title ahead of its publication.
London, 1941. Emmeline Lake and her best friend Bunty are trying to stay cheerful despite the Luftwaffe making life thoroughly annoying for everyone. Emmy dreams of becoming a Lady War Correspondent and when she spots a job advertisement in the newspaper she seizes her chance – but after a rather unfortunate misunderstanding, she finds herself typing letters for the formidable Henrietta Bird, the renowned agony aunt of Woman’s Friend magazine.
Mrs Bird is very clear: letters containing any form of Unpleasantness must go straight into the bin. But as Emmy reads the desperate pleas from women who may have Gone Too Far with the wrong man, or can’t bear to let their children be evacuated, she decides the only thing for it is to secretly write back . . .
Irresistibly funny and enormously moving, Dear Mrs Bird by AJ Pearce is a love letter to the enduring power of friendship, the kindness of strangers and the courage of ordinary people in extraordinary times.
Dear Mrs Bird is a wonderfully warm and funny novel, but one that also includes its share of heartache. Set during the Second World War, Emmy lives with her friend Bunty in London, trying to get on with life as best she can whilst the Luftwaffe drop their bombs, and managing two jobs – one working as a typist at a solicitor’s office whilst volunteering for the local fire brigade, answering calls and dispatching the fire crews to where they are needed. I thought that Pearce captured the period perfectly, including wonderful details about how life was for those living in London during the war, trying to go about their lives as best they can whilst friends and family are fighting on the front line. The difficulties in making ends meet, and the desire to remain optimistic, which goes beyond the stereotype of the British stiff upper lip, all brought the period to life brilliantly.
Emmy is a fantastic character, and I loved her feistiness, and her refusal to take on the role of housewife once her fiancé, Edmund, returns from the war.
I loved Edmund but I wasn’t going to be a doormat about things.
What Emmy really wants to do is be a journalist, specifically a lady war correspondent, and she jumps at the chance to join what she believes to be The London Evening Chronicle, convinced that this is the first rung of the ladder in this new career. She devastated when she realises that there was a mix up, and her role is actually working for the “cantankerous” Henrietta Bird, resident agony aunt of Women’s Friend. Emmy is determined to make the best of the situation, but is further disheartened when she realises that Mrs Bird doesn’t even read most of the letters sent to her, refusing to deal with any “unpleasantness”. The women (and occasionally girls) that write in really needing advice are turned away, their problems unheard.
And the headstrong Emmeline can’t resist trying to help them herself. It starts small, as these things often do, but soon escalates as Emmy realises that she can sneak her own replies into Women’s Friend with Mrs Bird none the wiser. I loved the tension as both Emmy and the reader expect her to be caught out at any moment, cringing at her cover stories as she attempts – often in a mild panic – to cover her tracks. Whilst her methods are a little suspect, her heart is at least in the right place, and I felt that she trying to do a good thing.
Dear Mrs Bird is an absolute joy to read, and I can see this being a big hit over the summer. Often amusing and occasionally sad, this is a wonderful read that depicts a woman ahead of her time, yet one that also portrays life during the Blitz, celebrating the efforts of those who supported the war effort from Blighty who sometimes seems to be overlooked.
Dear Mrs Bird is published on 5 April by Picador. Many thanks to Camilla Elworthy for the early review copy.
Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐