Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Nella Last's War - Nella Last - Review


The blurb...
"When war broke out, Nella's younger son joined the army while the rest of the family tried to adapt to civilian life. Writing each day for the "Mass Observation" project, Nella, a middle-aged housewife from the bombed town of Barrow, shows what people really felt during this time. This was the period in which she turned 50, saw her children leave home, and reviewed her life and her marriage - which she eventually compares to slavery. Her growing confidence as a result of her war work makes this a moving (though often comic) testimony, which, covering sex, death and fear of invasion, provides a new, unglamorised, female perspective on the war years."

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I bought this a while ago and it has been languishing in my "to be read" pile. On the way out of the door one morning (in my usual "bloody-rollers-take-longer-than-5-mins-to-take-out-AND-style" rush) I grabbed it and I am SO pleased that I did.

Mass Observation is something that has interested me for a while now -  being a diarist (is that a word?) myself -  I like to read what others chose to comment on. I have a whole book of excerpts, from the study as a whole, somewhere to plough through at some stage too.

Nella Last is a typical housewife matriarch who holds her boys in dear esteem and who sees her daily life and routine changed by the beginning on WW2. I found this book fascinating. Not only to see how her life was altered -  but also to see her grow as a person.

Her reactions are at time stoic-  and at others alarmingly depressing. She comments not only on life inside her own head and the 4 walls of her house -  but also her social circle, the political aspect  -  even the weather (which I loved as it helped me paint a picture in my head of how things actually were in her world) She oddly does not comment on bigger events on the days that they happen. For example. she notes Dunkirk only briefly.

If you want to dip onto the past through the eyes of a mother who witnessed and remembered with clarity "The Great War" -  only to send her own sons into the foray 20 years later -  this is the book for you.

If you don't want to read it -  this was dramatised by ITV with Victoria Wood starring as Nella Last -  called "Housewife, 49".

A superb 8/10 from me.

13 comments:

  1. Sounds excellent. It's so important for vintage fans like us not to get so caught up in the idealised stuff (like 'dunkirk spirit' and the idea everyone looked like a moviestar all the time) that we forget the reality of everyday life.

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  2. I applied to Mass Observation about 6 years ago, but they said they were over subscribed with females - they wanted more males - so would keep my details for possible future use.

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  3. Perdita - it's the history of this period that got me dressing the way I do now. I has never been a fashion thing with me (but it helps that it seems to be en vogue at the moment!) so the reality of it all of never too far from my thoughts. I read some pretty depressing stuff sometimes. I cheer myself up with chocolate! :)

    TCG - Yes! It fascinates me that it is still going! I might get The Beard to apply if they are looking for blokes. I heard somewhere that it is only men in the north that they are looking for though. Such a wealth of cultural history!

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  4. I love reading the Nella Last diaries - Husband brought me 'Nella Last in the 1950s' for Christmas and I read it completely in a matter of days. For more MO excerpts, have you read Simon Garfield's MO trilogy: 'We Are At War', 'Private Battles' and 'Our Hidden Lives'? These are excellent - the same quality as Nella.

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  5. Hey VK - I only found out about the 50's diaries recently - so I duly ordered! And I have 2 of those books, picked up from charity shops - I had no idea they were a trilogy. I really need to pay more attention!

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  6. :) I wasn't talking about you (or any of the bloggers I regularly use) - I always visit your sites as you're such a font of knowledge about the mid-20th-century!

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  7. Perdita - yes I know you were not talking about me or having a dig in anyway - I certainly didn't read it that way poppet. And as for "font of knowledge" - ha ha a haaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa. I wish! But you have said it now - in writing - so I am keeping it!!! :) **MASSIVE GRIN**

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  8. I've never heard of these, thank you for blogging about it. O guess people only really care about what effects them, and ir was such a huge lifestyle change that she was too busy thinking about how tp manage on rations this week than something that seems far away and has no direct relevance to her. If she had lived on the Kent coast, she might have made more than a passing comment. Will add tot reading list!

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  9. I have been commenting on my phone a lot, hence the silly typos! Sorry x

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  10. LC - Excellent! One of my reviews has done some good! You will not regret this book :)

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  11. I was just going to recommend Simon Garfield's Our Hidden Lives, but I see the Vintage Knitter has already mentioned it. Well worth a read.

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  12. I cannot praise these Nella Last books enough...they are brilliant. I too read them in a matter of days and I've just found out via Amazon that there is a 3rd book in the series so I must put that one on my list to buy.

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  13. Hi Catherine - yes - there is "Nella Last's War" "Nella Last in the 1950's" and then Nella Last's Peace" - all to be reviewed here soon!

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I'd love to hear what you think so feel free to comment away!

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