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Review: "The War Workers" by E.M. Delafield

The War Workers may be downloaded for free from our ebook catalog. The following review is written by new guest blogger, Amina, who also graciously volunteered to proof the ebook for publication.

I have mixed feelings about this book. On one hand, the characters are clearly drawn and reflect just about any situation where a group of women live and work together. On the other hand, some of it did not make sense. Why, for instance, did two of the characters so completely adore a third to the point where they wanted to marry each other largely based on their mutual appreciation for that third? It was an odd sort of basis for friendship and love.

Anyway, the book is about characters that live and work at or around the Midland Supply Depot, which is an army support institution. Charmian Vivian (Char), the charismatic Director, runs the Depot like an amateur dictator a la P.G. Wodehouse’s Roderick Spode. She uses tyranny and the cult of personality to overwork her employees and to take over other operations like a café that are not her concern. She is that typical Type A Superwoman who has to be the best at it all and do it without sleep or meals, and who makes us normal people rather irritated. However, by virtue of her charisma, looks, higher social position - the doctor in the book keeps saying the Vivians of Plessing have always stood for the highest in the land – and, frankly, sheer emotional blackmail – it is all about the war and the efforts made to support the troops, not about her control-freakishness – Char keeps a bevy of middle-class girls firmly under her thumb.

Enter Grace Jones, an archdeacon’s daughter, who has moved to the area to contribute to the war effort and who is also, upper-class. Char fails to impress Grace. Lady Joanna Vivian, Char’s mother, however, does manage to impress Grace, though it is not totally clear how, and John Trevellyan falls in love with Grace because he also adores Lady Vivian. Okay, perhaps that is not totally fair. John also falls in love with Grace because he helps her after she vomits at the sight of blood and because, blood aside, she is a cool-headed girl. Anyway, that’s pretty much enough about Grace. She’s there to be a foil for the super-intense Char and she does that well.

Lady Vivian is also supposed to be a foil of sorts for her daughter, but frankly, I mostly found her annoying in her way too. She just seemed to have sacrificed her whole life for her husband. Delafield implies that is a good thing, yet, I find it hard to believe that a successful working woman like the author could be convinced. Char, however, is vilified for being completely involved in her work to the exclusion of her family, especially when her father is ill with a stroke and she protests sitting around at home with nothing to do since she’s not even allowed to nurse him (Lady Vivian takes that job). Yes, Char got annoying, especially when she kept telling people how important she was, but I found I still respected her dedication. Grace and others in the book say Char’s dedication is based on others watching her and admiring her; well, when after some nasty backstabbing from the local GP, those others do not admire Char as much, she still continues as dedicated as ever. Frankly, that took some guts and gung-ho. Grace, on the other hand, keeps gliding through life, a feminine support to others, and Lady Vivian just keeps being lady of the manor, even when that manor is given up to convalescent soldiers.

So, even though I was supposed to admire Grace and Lady Vivian and dislike Char, I found I really did not like anyone much in the book, but did come away respecting Char Vivian.

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