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Love in the Blitz Reviews

Love in the Blitz by Eileen Alexander

Love in the Blitz

The Greatest Lost Love Letters of the Second World War

Eileen Alexander

3.92 out of 5

6 reviews

Imprint: William Collins
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 30 Apr 2020
ISBN: 9780008311209

When the papers say that people in London are behaving normally, they're telling the truth. Everyone is pretending as hard as possible that nothing is happening ... I don't think Hitler will destroy London, because London, if its legs are blown away, is prepared to hobble on crutches.

5 stars out of 5
William Boyd
9 Dec 2020

"The frankness and guilelessness of these letters grant them an astonishing authenticity."

Love in the Blitz covers the passage of time from the summer of 1939 to 1946 in the form of a series of love letters written by a young woman, Eileen Alexander, to her lover, Gershon Ellenbogen. It makes for a fascinating subjective account of an individual life over these years, unfiltered by any ambitions of literary posterity or knowingness. The frankness and guilelessness of these letters grant them an astonishing authenticity. This book can rank with Joan Wyndham’s wonderful youthful journals of the blitz, Love Lessons, as an account of those terrible weeks and months of 1940 and 41 that sweeps away the accumulated myths and nationalistic hogwash that fond, retro-fitted hindsight has bestowed. This is the news from the domestic frontline: personal, unique, unexpurgated, without propaganda, as it unfolded and was experienced.


4 stars out of 5
16 May 2020

"A recently discovered cache of letters from the Blitz are funny, moving, despairing, erotic — and always inspirational"

Becoming increasingly aghast at the ominous talk from Germany of Jewish persecution, her writing is at its most beautiful as she yearns for the Wordsworthian care-freedom of the Scottish landscape, when ‘to be young was very heaven’ and the sound of river water was ‘almost more hushed than silence’. But during the earthquake of war and at other moments of national catastrophe when loneliness, fear and uncertainty can bring despair, flares of hope and Eileen’s discovery of the ‘core of warm serenity’ found in letters, in reciprocated love and within inspirational people can reverse the mood. These are such letters, theirs was such a love and Eileen Alexander such a delicious inspiration.

3 stars out of 5
Ysenda Maxtone Graham
14 May 2020

"(an) extraordinarily vivid and eloquent collection"

Note Eileen’s capital ‘D’ for ‘Disappointing’. She has a few stylistic habits that can grate over 450 pages, and one of them is her use of capital letters, such as ‘Living in Sin’. Gershon must have liked it, though, as he went on to propose to her. They married in 1944, and lived happily ever after until she died of lung cancer in 1986. The only time she drops the capital-letters habit is when she’s in a really heightened state of emotion — on the day her office was bombed, or when pouring out her love in a deeply bleak mood mid-war...

3 stars out of 5
John Carey
10 May 2020

"the great value of Eileen’s book is that, like all books about the Second World War, it takes you out of our present troubles into a world even more dangerous and destructive"

She has an unfortunate habit of transcribing the speech of lower-class people complete with misspellings and mispronunciations. She meets, for example, a woman whose flat has been bombed and who is forced to bed down, as many did, on the Underground platforms. “So everyday nah I comes to the choob at eleven in the mornin’ and chooses me place.” This kind of thing must have seemed funny once, but it now disgusts. Food rationing, a severe trial for most ordinary people during the war, does not affect Eileen for she is able to dine at the Café Royal or the Savoy or Simpson’s when she chooses, and does so without, it seems, any trace of guilt.

4 stars out of 5
Iona McLaren
9 May 2020

" a flamboyantly un-Kosher and perfectly apt description of Love in the Blitz."

Perhaps Eileen did privately fulfil her literary promise, a fact that Love in the Blitz merely makes public. For in Gershon, she found the ideal reader; and in letters, “undoubtedly my medium”. Disappointing letters, she told him, “have all the amorphousness of a ground-rice pudding – without any of its smoothness. A letter should be like a Lobster-salad, darling – crisp – well-seasoned and resilient – with a touch of the Unexpected here and there.” It’s a flamboyantly un-Kosher and perfectly apt description of Love in the Blitz.

5 stars out of 5
Gareth Russell
24 Apr 2020

"It’s a memoir of hope and resilience, as much as of love"

The letters are, as one of their editors notes, close to “an uninhibited and unstoppable stream of consciousness . . . written from air-raid shelters, and office desks, on buses and station platforms, in hotel foyers and under hair-dryers”. The 1,400 letters were uncovered by chance in an eBay auction by their future editor and transcriber, David McGowan. Eileen is an ambitious, kind and achingly funny observer. She peppers her correspondence with notes about daily life in a London under siege — we are told how irksome it was to fit a gas mask into a handbag and that Vivien Leigh was superb as Lady Teazle in a radio broadcast of Sheridan’s The School for Scandal