Finally, the “if you ruled the world” question. If you could hand out to passers-by copies of one book you consider unjustly neglected, which would it be?
Darkness Falls from the Air, by Nigel Balchin. Probably out of print. Haunting story of a pair of extremely sophisticated Londoners during the Blitz, and the most perfect ending of any story I’ve ever read. Suggest a campaign to bring it back into print, spearheaded by you in your blog.
I can now recommend another Balchin title: The Small Back Room. I mananged to pick up this copy for 75p the other day, courtesy of Help the Aged:
Ten years ago I watched the Powell and Pressburger film The Small Back Room (unaware that it started life as a novel by Nigel Balchin) and was struck by the world-weary cynicism of the main characters. It was the antithesis of the classic British war film. There were no heroes (in the Kenneth Moore sense of the word), very little action and a noticeable absence of Dunkirk Spirit. This was a film for grown-ups with real people in it.
Balchin's novel is still in print, although I wonder how many shops stock it. This is a pity, as this unusual novel gives a refreshingly different perspective on Britain in World War Two - one that tallies far more with the Mass Observation accounts I mentioned in the last post.
This Penguin paperback was published in 1939 - shortly before the War began. It makes quite surprising reading because it blows away the myth of Britain as a united country, ready to fight at any cost to preserve democracy. The Mass Observation movement portrays a country that is reluctant to go to war and isn't particularly bothered about what is happening in Europe as long as it doesn't affect the price of bread. Rather like today.
After 1939, the MO accounts record people's frustration with British military incompetence (particularly the army), cynicism about Churchill's promises of victory and a general sense of fatigue and frustration. It is this Britain that features in Nigel Balchin's novels and they are a refreshing antidote to the (probably necessary) myths that were circulated during and after the War.