The Avenue Goes to War by R.F. Delderfield

The Avenue Goes to War cover

The Avenue Goes to War by R.F. Delderfield is of course the sequel to The Dreaming Suburb and in this one the war has well and truly started, no more of that ‘phoney war’ as it was called in the beginning, before the heavy bombing started. Everybody in The Avenue is joining up or war dodging in the case of Archie Carver who is only interested in making as much money as possible. Often it’s the most unexpected people who are most determined to ‘do their bit’.

Delderfield was great at creating interesting characters and in this book he wrote about what was the reality of war for many, with the civilians often ending up taking the brunt of the German attacks.

He shows how society changed completely, sometimes the changes were for the better though, with The Avenue becoming much more socially welcoming for people, friendships being forged by men who had lived next-door to each other for 20 years but had never exchanged more than a ‘hello’ before. It’s not all about The Avenue however, with a few of the former inhabitants ending up in Germany the action moves there occasionally.

I was really sorry when this book came to an end, but the author tied up all the loose ends very satisfactorily and although the writing isn’t poetic, the sentiments are, or philosophical if you prefer.

My copy of this one is a 1958 first edition and it has a nice wee plan of the neighbourhood at the beginning of the book, something which seems to be missing from the modern paperbacks.

Now I intend to start reading A Horseman Riding By (Long Summer Day and Post of Honor in the US) but I don’t have those books yet. I can’t make up my mind whether to buy the modern paperbacks, or just put them on my Kindle, which is a lot cheaper and quicker. But I prefer actual books – although I’m no great fan of modern paperbacks. Decisions, decisions.

Have any of you read his Swann saga?

The Dreaming Suburb by R.F. Delderfield

The Dreaming Suburb cover

The Dreaming Suburb by R.F. Delderfield was first published in 1958 and it’s the first in Delderfield’s ‘Avenue’ books of which there are two.

The book’s first chapter takes place in Spring 1947, but in the next one we’re back in 1919, men are coming back form the trenches and discovering that all the promises they were given by the government meant nothing. Britain isn’t a place fit for heroes, it’s a place of unemployment and poverty for most ordinary people.

The story involves the inhabitants of Manor Park Avenue, it shelters a disparate collection of characters, one of the main ones being Jim Carver who came back from the war to discover that his wife had just died giving birth to her second set of twins. Jim throws himself into trade unionism and is involved in the General Strike.

The Dreaming Suburb leads us up to the beginning of World War 2 just 20 years after the end of the war to end all wars. Jim had been a pacifist after his experiences in the trenches, but he quickly changes his feelings when Hitler begins to rampage across Europe.

The author is a straightforward storyteller, there’s nothing fancy or poetic about his writing, but his characters are so well written, he was obviously a great observer of people. There are several families involved, all very different, and the children usually turn out to be very different from their parents. The strict Methodists have unknowingly brought up manipulative and dishonest children, with Elaine being the opposite of her frigid mother and determined to use her sexual appeal to get everything she wants in life. It was a real page-turner for me and I went straight on to the sequel The Avenue Goes to War. These books would make a great TV series. (Jack’s just told me they have been made for TV, back in 1978 as People Like Us.)

The setting of the suburb is twelve miles from London Stone, (something which I must admit I had never even heard of before) a place that would nowadays be very definitely seen as London itself, so far and wide has London crept.