A week before the rest of my presents will be unwrapped, Simon presented me with what might turn out to be my favourite gift of the holiday season: his review of The Siren Years by Charles Ritchie.
Charles Ritchie was a Canadian diplomat – I suspect this is the point where 50% of you will stop reading entirely – but, most importantly, he was a superb diarist. He published four volumes of diaries, following him from his Oxford days in the 1920s to his final diplomatic posting in the 1970s.
The best of these is The Siren Years, which records his experiences during the Second World War when he was working in London at Canada House. For fifteen years, this has been my gold-standard for wartime diaries. As I said back in 2012 (when I picked it out as one of my favourite books of the year):
No matter how many times I read this (and I have lost count at this point), it remains the best wartime diary I have ever come across. Ritchie’s diplomatic and social connections in London exposed him to an extraordinary variety of people, from political leaders and petty bureaucrats to authors and exiled royalty. The joy of Ritchie’s diaries comes from the meld of political details and domestic ones. I find it just as interesting to hear about how the Canadian High Commission handled refugee claims as I do to discover what Ritchie saw on his walk through London each day on the way to work or what he talked about at lunch with Nancy Mitford.
It is wonderful to be able to share the books you love with people who enjoy them and so I read Simon’s review with complete delight.
If you are interested in learning more about Ritchie, check out my thoughts on all four volumes of his diaries:
An Appetite for Life (Oxford, 1924-1927)
The Siren Years (London, 1937-1945)
Diplomatic Passport (Europe and America, 1946-1962)
Storm Signals (Washington and London, 1962-1971)