Pigeon Pie, the fourth novel of Nancy Mitford, was first published in 1940 by Hamish Hamilton. This was a serious error by its publisher given that Mitford wrote this light-hearted satire about wartime spying just before World War Two broke out in 1939. Not surprisingly, it was a commercial miss. Which is a shame. It is a funny, more tightly-plotted and disciplined novel than her first three and is a transition between her pre-war and post-war novels.
At the outbreak of war, Lady Sophia Garfield enrols at her nearest First Aid Post and is put in charge of the office, folding and counting laundry and taking telephone calls. As the book is set during the first few months of war, the Phoney War, not a lot happens for Sophia except endless first aid drills. She teases an acquaintance, Olga – who poses in the press as a mysterious Mata Hari figure – and lunches with inept friends Ned and Fred who work at the Ministry of Information. Then Sophia stumbles on a nest of spies; or counter-spies, or counter-counter spies, she’s not sure which.
Although her characters seem of a type with those of her first three novels – Mitford has a reputation for writing about the upper class, their extravagant and thoughtless lifestyles – in Pigeon Pie they are less cartoonish. Sophia particularly is interesting, drawn as she is into different worlds: her husband Luke’s enthusiasm for a new American religion, the Boston Brotherhood, brings new friends to dinner and a lodger upstairs; her godfather Sir Ivor King, aka The King of Song, disappears; journalist Rudolph Jocelyn enlists; and Sister Wordsworth at the Post is jolly and efficient about bandages and disinfectants and such like. Mitford weaves a plot of spies, kidnapping, bombs, code and general sneaking around, despite Sophia being unable to remember Morse Code and seeing codes in innocent messages.
This had me chuckling aloud.
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PIGEON PIE by Nancy Mitford #bookreview https://wp.me/p5gEM4-3h2 via @SandraDanby