I 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