Nonfiction

Blitz: The Story of 29 December 1940 by Margaret Gaskin

The next in my Blitz research readings, this book took me nearly forever to finish. And I can tell you why, too. The entire book reads like front matter – I kept sighing in frustration and thinking ‘Man, this Introduction is LONG’ only to realise that I was on page 100-and-something, deep in chapter 14. The first half of the book is background information, leading up to December 29 – the raid which resulted in the second Great Fire of London and the famous, famous picture of St. Paul’s rising, somehow unscathed, from a dense cloud of smoke as the City burned around it. Led astray by yet another subtitle (Margaret, either get there quicker or change your subtitle)!

When we finally get to the main action of the night in question, the pace really picks up. Until it immediately drags to a glacial pace again. I see what she was trying to do – throughout the introduction, she introduces certain characters (some are firemen, some are journalists, some are American, most are Londoners, some are women, some are men, all of them are real) that she is then going to follow through the events pretty much as they happen. Unfortunately, I found this hard to follow. It may have been my fault – not realising where she was going, I didn’t know that I needed to remember all these different names (the only one I could recognise each time was Nev Coates). It also made it sort of difficult to get a sense of the night all in one go because it was chopped up as she jumepd back and forth around the City, checking in on the different people. I think it would have been easier to follow – though perhaps less pretty – if she’d just taken us through the night person by person.

(I have to say, though, that the sections of the book are fairly cleverly named – I didn’t get it until I got to the section of the night itself which is called “Fugue” – that’s when I realised what she was meaning to do with the different characters, weaving their experiences together to create one tapestry of the night [I've always wanted to use that tapestry metaphor and it just fits here - I don't care that it's cliche!].)

She had lots of interesting information and she definitely captured the feeling of being there, right in the midst of the towering flames and the bombs falling, but I feel like I should have been glued to the page, holding my breath to find out what havoc was going to be wreaked on London. Instead, it just felt like a burden to pick this book up each night. So I see what she was trying to do and I’ll give her points for it (and for using the St. Paul’s photo on her cover), but it’s not what I was hoping for.

My rating: B-

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