Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Penguin no. 969: One Pair of Feet by Monica Dickens

What does this book tell us? That women previously ignored and seen as useless were given new opportunities courtesy of the war but were simultaneously compelled by public opinion to take on new roles to show their commitment to the war effort? That nursing work was poorly paid drudgery? That people are petty, spiteful and self-centred, and that groups of women definitely shouldn’t live together? There is nothing to learn here. Perhaps this book is an anachronism; perhaps it was part of a movement highlighting the need for change, but now that change has come and life is different it just seems petty, boring and without purpose.

It lists endless grievances, slights, run-ins and disappointments that Monica Dickens suffered during her year as a nurse during the war (but I keep thinking, just tell them who your great-grandfather is, that should silence them). The incidents are all trivial; and you can’t escape the notion as you read the book that all these unimportant patients and nurses she complains about are long dead. In that sense the book acts as a momento mori; now will one day be 70 years in the past and forgotten too.

It is the horror of reading another’s thoughts. Did the people she criticizes read this book and recognise themselves? I feel sorry for them all; this book is best left on the shelf.

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