Liz Jensen's new novel, War Crimes for the Home, has an unlikely heroine in Gloria Taylor, nee Winstanley, a game old bird who loves a good joke and is not afraid to call a spade a spade. Or a slut a slut.
After a minor stroke, Gloria finds herself in Sea View, an old people's home with a nice big television in the lounge, where, if you look carefully through the big picture window, you can see the sea. There's also a problem with Gloria's memory. She may have Alzheimer's, she may just have selective memory loss-- or if you talk to certain members of her family, she may not have anything wrong with her mind other than a bit of deliberate Gloria bolshiness.
Gloria's son Hank and his family come to visit regularly and one day, a woman called Jill turns up and starts asking funny questions. Gloria would rather everyone just left her alone. It's bad enough seeing that little kid sitting on her bed dripping pond weed and blood most nights. She really annoys Gloria.
Funny thing is Gloria can remember so much about the war, when she and her sister worked in a munitions factory in Bristol and she met Ron, or Raan, the GI who initiated her in the ways of the flesh. One Yank and they're off too true! She can remember her first date with Ron, going to see the Great Zedorro, a hypnotist who got her up on stage and made her feel like a rod of iron. She can remember, the full gory details, the day one of the factory girls lost her arm and half her shoulder. And the day the telegram arrived about her sister's boyfriend and how Marge went off to drive ambulances in London and Gloria got lumbered with an Irish evacuee and her snotty kids. She can even remember much later, after the war finally ended, working as a pro back in London, where her Dad had worked the meat down at Smithfield market.
But there's so much more poor old Gloria can't remember. Things her son and the Jill woman keep ranting on about. Why do they want her to rake over all that boring old stuff? Why can't they just let sleeping dogs lie? What does it all matter now?
In War Crimes for the Home, Liz Jensen has conjured up a fabulously inventive, gripping tale; a sort of modern twist on the whodunnit, or in this case, who-dunn-what, with a very real, very spiky protagonist. Gloria bristles with indignation, speaks her mind however harsh it sounds and loves to shock with her filthy jokes and even filthier suggestions--which means that War Crimes is not for the prudish. It is however a wonderfully original but painfully raw story of an era when people lived in constant fear, hearts ruled heads and everyone lived for the moment. And Gloria was no exception. Although sometimes the moment turned out to be the future and people have to learn to live with the consequences, however unpalatable they may be. --Carey Green [via]