Book Review: The Midnight News is a rare new take on the Blitz novel

Jo Baker doesn’t just write historical fiction; she plays with it in the way only a writer at the top of their craft can. She is a writer whose work takes the reader’s expectations of the genre and twists them into something marvellously unexpected. Her latest novel, The Midnight News, is no different.

To start, it seems like a run of the mill Blitz novel. Its main character, twenty-year-old Charlotte Richmond, is living in a boarding house in London, having left the comfort of her family home. Her father – Lord Richmond – is an often unseen but always overbearing presence in her life. Charlotte has a best friend – Elena- whom she loves but doesn’t see much because Elena is so busy with work. She also has a work friend named Janet, and a godmother named Saskia, whom she would like to spend more time with. When we first meet Charlotte, she is feeling desperately lonely for the company of these women. And then, the Blitz begins.

It is when the first tragedy strikes that the novel begins to hint that it won’t go in the expected direction. When Elena is killed, supposedly in the bombing, Charlotte begins to speak to ghosts. Elena, and then other characters, form a chorus in Charlotte’s head, and she discusses her thoughts and feelings about what is happening to her with them.

While there have been hints throughout that Charlotte may have been institutionalised when she was younger, the reader never feels as if Charlotte may not be in control of her faculties. In fact, she seems to be the only one thinking rationally (thanks to a tightly controlled third-person limited point of view), as the number of completely in-tact bodies begins to rise. Charlotte begins to see the same man over and over again, and, taking its cues from the mystery genre, Charlotte investigates the possibility that someone may be following her and preying on her loved ones in the dark.

The Midnight News borrows tropes from a number of genres aside from mystery, with elements of espionage, romance. psychological thriller and even literary fiction evident on the page. The result is a nuanced discussion of women’s autonomy in England in the 1940s, particularly as it relates to their own bodies and sexual freedoms.

While Charlotte is certainly suffering from immense stress and fear throughout the book, and may even be sinking into a state of depression, Baker shows us that this is a perfectly normal response to trauma and gaslighting. Rather than serving as an unreliable narrator, Charlotte serves as a faithful guide through the heightened emotions of 1940s London. She is supported by a wonderful cast of characters, from the dapper Mr Gibbons, whose wardrobe is a veritable treasure chest of unisex accoutrements, to Janet, the overworked Vicar’s wife who can finally let loose in death.

This book would appeal to readers of historical fiction of all sorts, from The Little Wartime Library to Life After Life.


Jo Baker’s The Midnight News is out now through Hachette Australia. Get your copy from Booktopia HERE.

Emily Paull

Emily Paull is a former bookseller, and now works as a librarian. Her debut book, Well-Behaved Women, was released by Margaret River Press in 2019.