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Book Review: Diary of a Wartime Affair by Doreen Bates

Updated: May 23, 2021

Written between 1934 and 1942 'Diary of A Wartime Affair' is the diary of a young tax inspector (Doreen) which charts her affair with a colleague ('E'). What emerges is a compelling narrative that intertwines contemporary historical events with mundane everyday life at the tax office and the not so mundane affair with the married and rakish E.

Historically, the diaries offer a fascinating account of the unfolding events leading up to the outbreak of WWII. Chamberlain, Hitler, Von Ribbentrop, Churchill and co are all here. The eye witness account of the London blackout is more vivid than any text book account of the blitz you will ever encounter and worth reading for that alone.

But it's the affair of the human heart which sets this book apart. Doreen's affair with the older E is riveting stuff - more so given the fractious off and on nature of the relationship, an aspect that is related in the pages of her diary by an often perplexed, frustrated young diarist.

As an educated career-woman it is puzzling how such a vivacious young woman could have been strung along by a man who clearly had no intention of leaving his long-suffering wife, referred to here as 'K.' It seems Doreen was quite aware that she was involved with a cad, and fully accepted the restrains his marital situation placed on her effectively making her the 'other woman' in perpetuity.

Even stranger is the hold that this character E had over her. Judged by the few grainy pictures presented he was more Peter Lorre than Cary Grant. For men like E love is blind, thankfully. Not only was E physically unattractive, here was a man living two separate lives and expecting each of the women involved to grin and bear it. Selfish does not even come close, yet to their own detriment each woman assented to be part of this bizarre love triangle.

E and Doreen enjoy a very physical relationship. Thirteen years her senior, the old goat cannot keep his hands off his beautiful colleague. One gets the impression that the sexual side of the affair is much more important to him than it is to her. Indeed, it seems that E's main purpose is to get his leg over as often as possible, something he manages to do in trains, offices, parks and even churches . . .

On one occasion Doreen relates how they are disturbed 'fucking' in a country field and then, when the danger had passed how they, 'resumed our fuck.' Talk about randy - they're even doing it in rail carriages between stops!

Walks and lunches in country pubs are recounted by a flushed, naïve young woman who had seemingly fallen in love with this older, moody, selfish man. At times it's pure Orwell, not in the political sense but rather in its portrayal of a lost, inter-war England. Doreen and E could so easily be Gordon and Rosemary in 'Keep The Aspidistra Flying.'

And so the affair goes on. The diary paints an aching story of clandestine meetings, theatre visits and country walks which inevitably lead to 'fucks.' And all the while Doreen aches for a baby - E's baby. Being the cad he is E is not too keen and reading Doreen's agonising diary entries is to be privy to a rollercoaster ride between joy and despair.

Suffused by a romantic innocence these diaries are at times unbearable to read, a testament to the strength of human passion. As a reader you want Doreen to ditch the creepy E, but it's a futile hope. His hold over her is as total as it is inexplicable.

What is so thoroughly addictive about this book is the intimacy afforded, a privileged glance into a single life replete with hopes and fears. Although the protagonists are long since dead, their passion lives on in these pages. Snatches of their conversations are recorded in these pages for posterity, the language of a great romance that actually happened and which it is a privilege to read over 80 years later.

In fact so entrancing is this book it's quite a wrench to have to leave Doreen, E and K behind and their torrid affair played out to the backdrop of Lyons tea rooms, spitfires and blackouts in war torn London.

Did all these things happen - I mean really happen - all those years ago? Apparently so.