Their Finest

Written by Lissa Evans
Review by Jessica Brockmole

Their Finest, coming to the U.S. after an Orange Prize nomination and with a forthcoming film adaptation, brings humor, heartbreak, and more than one awkward romance to the familiar British WWII home front novel.

Junior copywriter Catrin Cole, adept at writing women’s dialogue, is tapped by the Ministry of Information to bring a much-needed female perspective to their propaganda film scripts. Their latest project is a melodramatic tale of rescue at Dunkirk, flimsily based on a true story. With many of the British film industry’s best and brightest off doing war work of grave importance, the Ministry is left with the dregs, so to speak. A cynical writer who hides behind his sarcasm. A has-been matinee idol from the ´20s who refuses to be relegated to the ghastly “Character Actors” page of Spotlight. A toothy American pilot mistakenly classed as an actor. A nervous caterer-turned-soldier, fresh from the real Dunkirk, brought in as Special Military Advisor. A seamstress used to dressing wax celebrities at Madame Tussaud’s hired as studio costumer. As the members of this strange and varied company try to find steady ground in the uncertainty of wartime, Catrin hopes to write the kind of heroine that the country needs.

From beginning to end, Their Finest is a delight. Its characters are replete with rough edges and misplaced hopes, but their flaws endear. They bristle, they doubt, they complain, yet they always persevere. Evans’s prose is beautifully sharp, begging to be reread for a second laugh or to savor a particularly delicious turn of phrase. The reader is lulled into thinking this is a novel that doesn’t take itself seriously, only to be walloped with the occasionally unforeseen emotional punch. Highly recommended.