A Bookseller’s War by Heywood & Anne Hill

A Booksellers War

On 3rd August 1936 Heywood Hill opened a bookshop in Curzon Street. It still bears his name.

In the early years he and his wife Anne ran the shop together.

Anne writes simply and openly of this period in the introduction to this volume, her love for books, the shop and, of course, her husband shining through.

But then in 1939 war broke out. And in 1942 Heywood was called up.

Letters, of course. ensue.

Anne writes vividly of events in the bookshop. The antiquarian book trade seems largely unaffected by the war and the London literati – most often Osbert Sitwell and Frances Partridge – pass through. Anne cannot fill her husband’s shoes as manager, but her colleagues clearly tactfully support her. And of course, like so many other women, she desperately missed, and worried about, her husband.

Meanwhile Heywood struggles with basic training. Like so many of his generation he has been called upon to play a role for which his life has been no preparation. He persists though, and eventually finds his niche in intelligence.

Looking back I see that my paragraph about Anne is significantly longer than my paragraph about Heywood. That mirrors their contributions to this volume book – it is more “A Bookshop’s War” than “A Bookseller’s War”.

Initially this made interesting reading, but soon the gaps were very apparant.

No references to friends and family, beyond the fact that Anne had seen them or heard from them.

No references to home-life, or even to the coming child.

No references to the wider world.

Of course some editing must have been necessary, and of course the privacy of all those involved must be protected. But what is left is so devoid of context, so unrooted in a recognisable life, that it ends up just floating by.

The book ends when Anne steps down from the shop to look after her new daughter.

And I’m afraid that it didn’t offer enough to make it stay with me.

8 responses

  1. I’m interested in this time period. At first this sounded like something I could get into. I especially want to know how bookshops survived the war. But – I want a bit more than what this book seems to be giving. Thanks for an honest review.

  2. Well the title caught my attention, but your review has me thinking that the title may be my favorite part of the book!

  3. This has such an interesting premise… what a shame it didn’t work for you. I might still give it a go, as I did enjoy Heywood Hill’s letters to Nancy Mitford.

  4. Looking back now, I think that maybe my closing statement sound a little harsh. What I might better have said is that leaving the book I felt I was parting with casual acquaintances rather than the good friends I had hoped to make. It’s a readable book, you just need to go in with the right expectations, and maybe I didn’t.

  5. Pingback: What’s in a Name Challenge: Complete! « Fleur Fisher reads

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