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BLOG TOUR REVIEW!!! Mr Bunting at War by Robert Greenwood

Image Description: The cover of Mr Bunting at War has an illustration of an older gentleman, dressed for work in a suit and bowler hat and holding a briefcase. He is standing in front of a bomb-damaged suburban house.

George Bunting, businessman, husband and father, lives a quiet life at home in Laburnam Villa in Essex, reading about the progress of the war in his trusty Siren newspaper and heading to work every day at same the warehouse where he has been employed for his entire adult life. Viewed with an air of slight amusement by his three children, Mr Bunting’s war efforts comprise mainly of digging for victory and reluctantly erecting a dugout in the garden. But as the Second World War continues into the summer of 1940, the Battle of Britain rages in the skies and the bombs begin to reign down on London, this bumbling ‘everyman’ is forced to confront the true realities of the conflict. He does so with a remarkable stoicism, imbuing him with a quiet dignity.

This reprint of a 1941 classic includes an introduction from IWM putting the work in historical context and shedding a light on the wartime experiences of the quiet ‘everyman’ and his family on the British Home Front: He was not brilliant, nor heroic, but there was one thing he could do – endure. He could stick it out right to the end. It was the one thing he was good at, and it happened to be almost his sole duty. 

Having read and very much enjoyed several of the British Library Crime Classics series, I was intrigued to discover the Imperial War Museum Wartime Classics. Originally released to considerable acclaim, the novels in this series were all written either during or just after the Second World War and, prior to re-publication by the Imperial War Museum, were out of print. Each novel is written directly from the author’s own experience of the Second World War and the series therefore aims to showcase books that take the reader right into the heart of the conflict.

As Alan Jeffreys says in his enlightening introduction to Robert Greenwood’s Mr Bunting at War, the latest classic to be reissued in the series, we frequently read or study the literary legacies of the First World War. The poetry of Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon is on many a syllabus whilst Erich Maria Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front is considered a modern classic. Yet the novels of the Second World War are, in comparison, often forgotten.

Mr Bunting at War, first published in 1941, is a sequel to Robert Greenwood’s earlier novel Mr Bunting (1940), which introduced us to George Bunting, his wife Mary, and their three children: Chris, Ernest, and Julie. Having not read the earlier novel, which depicts the Bunting family’s life in the 1930s, I was worried that I might struggle to engage with the sequel but Mr Bunting at War operates perfectly successfully as a standalone novel.

At the beginning of the book Mr Bunting has, owing to wartime staff shortages, returned to his former work as a manager in the ironmongery section of Brockleys in London, leaving his wife Mary to look after the family home. Sons Chris and Ernest are, initially, involved in running small businesses although both are contemplating whether, as young men of fighting age, they have a duty to enlist and support the war effort in more overt ways. Daughter Julie, meanwhile, is looking for employment after her previous boss enlisted to fight.

Thus we have a depiction of the quintessential nuclear family for whom, at the start of the novel, the war is but a minor inconvenience in their more significant life plans. As the novel progresses, however, and the German forces advance rapidly through the Netherlands, Belgium and France, the sound of air raid sirens shatter the silence of suburban Kilworth and the war steps ever closer to the Bunting family’s previously quiet existence within Laburnam Villa.

Mr Bunting at War is what you might call a ‘quiet’ novel, telling the story of an ordinary suburban family in a similar vein to R C Sheriff’s The Fortnight in September. There are few showy set pieces or sudden dramatic turns and, for the most part, the focus remains on the everyday activities and conversations of Mr Bunting, stoically keeping calm and carrying on. Over the course of the novel, however, I came to like and admire the Bunting family and their stoicism, and the novel gave me cause to reflect on the harsh realities of everyday life on the Home Front.

Mr Bunting, in particular, moves from being a faintly ridiculous figure – pottering around cleaning the family gas masks and seeking his neighbour’s advise on how to make his garden soil ‘friable’ so he can Dig for Victory – to being a quietly dignified father, friend, colleague and neighbour who, in his own quiet way, is determined to do what he can for the war effort.

Alan Jeffrey’s introduction to this new edition of Mr Bunting at War provides some useful historical context for the novel’s timeline although, readers beware, it does also contain a fairly major plot spoiler about the fate of one of the central characters.

As you might expect of a novel published in wartime, there are elements of popular jingoism in Mr Bunting at War, with its depiction of an ordinary man keeping calm and carrying on even whilst the first bombs of the London Blitz begin to fall around him. However the novel does not romanticise Home Front life. The economic deprivations of the Second World War are made abundantly apparent from the outset and, as the novel progresses, the Bunting family and their circle of friends will not be immune to casualties.

When I agreed to be part of this blog tour I was slightly worried that, not being a huge fan of ‘military’ books, Mr Bunting at War wouldn’t be for me. However, with its focus on a relatable everyday family caught up in extraordinary times, I found it to be a compelling and emotional read that offered a slice of life in Home Front Britain. Anyone who has enjoyed modern Home Front novels – such as Sarah Waters’ The Night Watch – would, I feel, find this contemporary description of wartime life interesting whilst lovers of classics such as The Fortnight in September will also find much to enjoy in this quietly rewarding tale.

Mr Bunting at War by Robert Greenwood is published by Imperial War Museum Wartime Classics and is available now from all good booksellers and online retailers including Hive, Bookshop.org, Waterstones, and Wordery. You can also support the work of the Imperial War Museum by ordering direct from their website.

If you can, please support a local indie bookshop by ordering from them either in person or online! Some of my favourites include Booka Bookshop, The Big Green BookshopSam Read BooksellersBook-ishScarthin Books, and Berts Books

My thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy of the book in return for an honest and unbiased review and to Anne Cater from Random Things Tours for organising and inviting me onto this blog tour. The tour continues until 21st April 2022 so please do check out the other stops for more reviews and content!

Reviews on The Shelf are free, honest, and unbiased and I don’t use affiliate links on my posts. However if you enjoy the blog please consider buying me a coffee on Ko-Fi!

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