Blasts from the Past: War Crimes for the Home by Liz Jensen (2002)

This is the latest in a series of occasional posts featuring books I read years ago about which I was wildly enthusiastic at the time, wanting to press a copy into as many hands as I could.

It was the jacket that first attracted me to War Crimes for the Home. There’s a nice little Rosie the Riveter period feel about it that made me want to read the book, and I’m pleased to say that all these years later it remains the same. I suspect that means Bloomsbury feel it’s not worth the usual repackaging that denotes a facelift for a steady seller, or perhaps the relaunch of an author’s backlist in the hope of a little boost from a new title. A shame – it has a superb main protagonist, gutsy and bawdily funny with it, plus a twist that while it isn’t altogether unexpected works beautifully.

Liz Jensen’s novel explores memory and old age through Gloria a reluctant resident of the Sea View nursing home. Gloria loves a joke, but her memory’s not so good. Nearly eighty, her passionate nights with the dashing Ron, an American Second World War pilot, are crystal clear but there are puzzling gaps, black holes that have to be filled when her son starts asking uncomfortable questions which she isn’t sure she can answer. Her wartime love affair with an American Air Force man has left a legacy of secrets so deeply buried that it seems even Gloria is no longer privy to them.

The irascible yet determined, ‘feisty’ (how I hate that word) old woman was something of a rarity in contemporary fiction when Jensen’s novel was first published – Lesley Glaister’s protagonists, who no one would dare to call ‘old dears’, or, of course, Angela Carter’s twins in Wise Children come to mind but that’s it. Nowadays they’re more common but Gloria remains one of the most convincing fictional old women I’ve encountered.

What about you, any blasts from the past you’d like to share?

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12 thoughts on “Blasts from the Past: War Crimes for the Home by Liz Jensen (2002)”

  1. Liz Jensen is a perfect example of an underrated writer, possibly because of the crime that she can write very different types of books instead of writing the same kind of book again and again. I had the great good fortune of attending one of her workshops and talking to her at the Geneva Writers Conference back in 2014 and she was most impressive.

    1. I’d love to think I’d made a convert. Jensen tweeted that it was her own favourite earlier in the week which pleased me no end. It’s lovely to know that an author had fun writing something that I’ve enjoyed so much.

      1. Oh, that is delightful indeed. That cover would have pulled me in as well, and I am always on the lookout for a memorable older heroine. (Hagar Shipley in Margaret Laurence’s The Stone Angel and Margaret Atwood’s Iris Chase Griffin in The Blind Assassin come to mind as well.)

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