V for Victory by Lissa Evans: Pure joy

Cover image for V for Victory by Lissa EvansI owe a debt of gratitude to Ali at Heavenali whose review of Lissa Evans’ Old Baggage persuaded me to read it after being put off by its blurb. I loved it so much it ended up on both my 2018 books of the year list and my 2019 Women’s Prize for Fiction wishlist. You won’t be surprised, then, to hear that hopes were sky high for V for Victory and I’m delighted to say they were met. Beginning in 1944, Evans’ novel catches up with Vee and Noel, names familiar to readers of Old Baggage, neither of whom are quite who they appear to be.

He didn’t have a family tree, he had a Venn diagram, in which none of the circles overlapped

Vee runs Green Shutters, a Hampstead guesthouse open to lodgers willing to tutor the precocious Noel who refuses to go to school. To their guests they’re aunt and nephew but they share a secret: Vee is Noel’s guardian, a position once held by the renowned suffragette Dr Mathilda Simpkins. They met in compromising circumstances, soon forming a team, but Vee is constantly on her guard, the possibility of being unmasked looming when she’s the sole witness to an accident. When Noel meets an air raid warden who shows him an ornate roof boss, just the thing to pique his interest, he unwittingly makes a connection with his beloved Mattie. Winne and her twin sister Avril were members of the Amazons, a group formed by Mattie to prepare young women for the fight against fascism. By the end of the novel, Vee will have made a surprising ally and possibly something more, Noel will have understood a great deal about his origins, Winnie’s husband will have returned from his Polish prisoner-of-war-camp and Avril will have published a titillating novel which bears no resemblance whatsoever to the truth.

Mrs Claxton waited for a moment, her bright little gaze poking Vee all over like a skewer

The wit, compassion and historical veracity which made Old Baggage such a delight are all present and correct in Evans’ hugely entertaining new novel. Winnie’s story is lightly woven through Vee and Noel’s, referencing characters from the previous book which feels like a reunion with old friends for those of us who’ve read it while standing alone for readers who have that treat ahead of them. As ever, Evans’ characterisation is spot on: Noel’s insatiable quest for knowledge and his inability not to correct the incorrect is particularly well done. The novel ends on VE Day with Miss Appleby, who’s spent much of her year failing to teach Noel French or snare herself a serviceman, determined to enjoy the party. Pure joy, then. I’d love to think that sometime in the next few years we’ll be able to catch up with Noel. I’m keen to see what kind of man he’s going to be. He’s made such a promising start.

Doubleday: London 9780857523617 304 pages Hardback

22 thoughts on “V for Victory by Lissa Evans: Pure joy”

  1. My post has gone up today as well, and I loved every bit as much as you did. I’ve yet to read Old Baggage, I’m saving it for one of those really rotten winter weekends when you just want to curl up round the fire with a hot pot of tea and indulge yourself.

  2. This sounds excellent, I loved Crooked Heart and Old Baggage, so I really want to meet up with Vee and Noel again. I think I shall have to get this soon on kindle (just can’t cope with hardbacks at the moment) as it will be a perfect, immersive read for a lazy weekend after a tiring week back at school.

  3. Just skimming this for now as I have a copy of the book and would rather not know too much about it in advance if that makes sense. Nevertheless, I have clocked your subtitle of ‘pure joy’. That’s so reassuring to hear as the earlier books seem to have set such a high bar (and sense of anticipation for this new one). Definitely one to save for a suitably rainy day!

  4. I absolutely loved Old Baggage, but was less taken with Crooked Heart, so had not been particularly drawn to this latest one. But on the basis of your review I should at least give it a look – a good candidate for a library reservation!

  5. Whenever I read about Lissa Evans (mostly at Ali’s blog, I think), I immediately want to gather up all of her books and have a little binge with them. They just sound lovely.

  6. P.S. When I look up her name at the library, the catalogue includes a BBC production of “The Kumars at No. 42”, so maybe she has also written for television?

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