Tell It to a Stranger: Stories from the 1940s

Oh the delight of discovering Elizabeth Berridge’s writing! Fantastic collection of short stories that you assume will be upstanding British tales but that lead you through strange twists and jerks and gaps.

  • Snowstorm – A doctor witnesses one of her pregnant patients struggling with the idea of having a child, “preparing for a little stranger,” and the woman somehow is able to get rid of it.
  • The Bare Tree – Gorgeous first lines: “The grandmother sat in the sun. It was the only thing free of her daughter’s influence.” Struggles of three generations to understand each other.
  • Firstborn – A woman takes her baby to visit first her mother and then her mother-in-law; she’s overwhelmed by the idea she has just become a thing to tend to her hubby and baby; she returns home and her husband tells her not to mind about the baby for once, just have some tea.
  • Woman about the House – Henpecked man leaves his wife for a few weeks to get a job, comes back to find she’s left him which causes much happiness.
  • Tell It to a Stranger – Loved this story- Mrs. Hatfield has gone away to a safe spot during the war, discovers her home has been ransacked while she was away and she’s pleased because it will give her something to tell the folks back at the home. She trains back, and the train is under attack by the Germans, yet another thing to tell them. As she walks up the street to the home, she thinks she’s gone the wrong way, but no, the house has been bombed, all her friends are dead. She has no one to tell her tales to.
  • Lullaby – A gut-punch in 4 pages. Woman records herself singing a lullaby, leaves the record playing for her baby while she goes out (reluctantly) with her husband. The baby left alone, a storm hits, wind turns a night light candle into a fire that kills the kid.
  • Subject for a Sermon – Lady Hayley does her duty during the war effort to the detriment of her son while he’s on leave. Great sentence in here: “One spent so little time alone; looking back it was a lifetime of chatter.”
  • To Tea with the Colonel – A woman from London who acquired a limp during a bombing of her house moves to the country, is asked to make tea for her friend’s father, the Colonel, who’s deaf. She tells him (knowing he can’t hear her) that it’s terrible how his family has treated the poor; he’s nothing but gracious, telling her he can’t hear. She feels guilty, leaves in tears.
  • The Notebooks – A woman’s husband dies of pneumonia after a tetanus infection weakened him; he’s an author, he leaves behind a manuscript and some notebooks that the museum wants to buy. The widow admires his sketches of people in the notebooks and recognizes that “you can only see people if you relax and forget yourself.”
  • Chance Callers – A husband and wife visit a man about a house during the post-war crunch for housing. The man’s brother dies upstairs, the man makes out his will leaving the house to the couple.
  • The Prisoner -German prisoner of war come to dig drainage ditches for the fields strikes up an acquaintance with an old maid.