‘It’s the Reaction’ by Mollie-Panter Downes

Back in the days of WW2, Mollie Panter-Downes wrote stories featuring ordinary British people – mostly women – trying to cope with the day-to-day realities of life on the Home Front. Panter-Downes’ style – understated, perceptive and minutely observed – makes for a subtly powerful effect. She is particularly adept at capturing the range of emotions experienced by her characters, from loneliness and longing to fear and self-pity. In this, my favourite of her stories, a lonely young woman is buoyed by the camaraderie of war when she finally gets to know her neighbours as they shelter together during the Blitz. However, once the sequence of air raids is over, life in Miss Birch’s apartment block reverts to normal – and when she tries to rekindle her new friendships, Miss Birch soon discovers the fickle nature of relationships, even in times of hardship and war.

First published in The New Yorker, 1943, available to subscribers here. Collected in Good Evening, Mrs Craven: The Wartime Stories of Mollie Panter-Downes, Persephone 1999