Top Ten Tuesday: Books Set in the Interwar Years

Top Ten Tuesday was created by The Broke and the Bookish in June of 2010 and was moved to That Artsy Reader Girl in January of 2018. It was born of a love of lists, a love of books, and a desire to bring bookish friends together.

Previous Top Ten Tuesday Topics

As December breaks around us, winter feels like it has finally arrived: the persistent rains that characterised the autumn have – at last – dried up at least at the moment; the temperatures have retreated back to the negative figures overnight and my morning runs are increasingly icy! But is this not the perfect weather to curl up under a warm blanket (ideally with an open fire – how I lament the loss of an open fire!) with a hot drink and a good book!

This is also a week when I have noticed a strange coincidence in my current reading: three of the books I am currently reading are set in the interbellum years between the two World Wars: the roaring twenties and the increasingly ominous 1930s as war encroaches. And as this is a Freebie week, I thought this might be an interesting focus. It is an interesting time: in hindsight the urge towards modernity and optimism and hopefulness – to a jazz soundtrack of course, in an art deco ballroom populated with flappers – looks just a little desperate and hollow but still strangely compelling.

Let’s start with the books I am currently reading and move on from there…

Shrines of Gaiety, Kate Atkinson

1926, and in a country still recovering from the Great War, London has become the focus for a delirious new nightlife. In the clubs of Soho, peers of the realm rub shoulders with starlets, foreign dignitaries with gangsters, and girls sell dances for a shilling a time.

At the heart of this glittering world is notorious Nellie Coker, ruthless but also ambitious to advance her six children, including the enigmatic eldest, Niven whose character has been forged in the crucible of the Somme. But success breeds enemies, and Nellie’s empire faces threats from without and within. For beneath the dazzle of Soho’s gaiety, there is a dark underbelly, a world in which it is all too easy to become lost.

I’ve only just begun this but we are very much looking at the underworld of the roaring twenties: slippery business women, corruption and criminality!

When We Were Orphans, Kazuo Ishiguro

England, 1930s. Christopher Banks has become the country’s most celebrated detective, his cases the talk of London society. Yet one unsolved crime has always haunted him: the mysterious disappearance of his parents, in old Shanghai, when he was a small boy. Moving between London and Shanghai of the interwar years, When We Were Orphans is a remarkable story of memory, intrigue and the need to return.

Ishiguro’s novels will always struggle with the fact that they are not Never Let Me Go or The Remains of the Day, but this lesser known novel is wonderful: Christopher Banks is a typical Ishiguro narrator: an outsider – too much of China to be fully British, too British to be at home in Shanghai – caught between two worlds. He seems bound by the self-created narrative of his own life, despite it being in conflict with everyone else’s recollection.

The Mitford Vanishing, Jessica Fellowes

1937. War with Germany is dawning, and a civil war already raging in Spain. Split across political lines, the six Mitford sisters are more divided than ever. Meanwhile their former maid Louisa Cannon is now a private detective, working with her ex-policeman husband Guy Sullivan.

Louisa and Guy are surprised when a call comes in from novelist Nancy Mitford requesting that they look into the disappearance of her Communist sister Jessica, nicknamed Decca. It quickly becomes clear that Decca may have made for the war in Spain – and not alone.

As a second, separate missing person case is opened, Louisa and Guy discover that every marriage has its secrets – but some are more deadly than others . . .

I loved the opening novels in this series – The Mitford Murders, Bright Young Things, The Mitford Scandal – and the way that the sisters are growing up between them, each book focusing on a different sister in the iconic Mitford family.

The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald

As the summer unfolds, Nick is drawn into Gatsby’s world of luxury cars, speedboats and extravagant parties. But the more he hears about Gatsby – even from what Gatsby himself tells him – the less he seems to believe. Did he really go to Oxford University? Was Gatsby a hero in the war? Did he once kill a man? Nick recalls how he comes to know Gatsby and how he also enters the world of his cousin Daisy and her wealthy husband Tom. Does their money make them any happier? Do the stories all connect? Shall we come to know the real Gatsby after reading Nick’s account of that fateful summer?

How could I not include this one? Gatsby and his parties are the iconic presentation of the roaring twenties, and all the hollowness that surrounds it too.

The Remains of the Day, Kazuo Ishiguro

In the summer of 1956, Stevens, the ageing butler of Darlington Hall, embarks on a leisurely holiday that will take him deep into the English countryside and into his past . . . A haunting tale of lost causes and lost love, The Remains of the Day, winner of the Booker Prize, contains Ishiguro’s now celebrated evocation of life between the wars in a Great English House – within its walls can be heard ever more distinct echoes of the violent upheavals spreading across Europe.

Is it set in the interbellum years? I suppose the story itself is post World War Two but the core narrative in Darlington Hall that we see in hindsight is set absolutely between the wars. And it is sublime.

The Paying Guests, Sarah Waters

It is 1922, and London is tense. Ex-servicemen are disillusioned, the out-of-work and the hungry are demanding change. And in South London, in a genteel Camberwell villa, a large silent house now bereft of brothers, husband and even servants, life is about to be transformed, as impoverished widow Mrs Wray and her spinster daughter, Frances, are obliged to take in lodgers.

For with the arrival of Lilian and Leonard Barber, a modern young couple of the ‘clerk class’, the routines of the house will be shaken up in unexpected ways. And as passions mount and frustration gathers, no one can foresee just how far-reaching, and how devastating, the disturbances will be.

I love Sarah Waters and whilst her BBC adaptations have focussed on her Victorian novels – Fingersmith and Tipping the Velvet – but I found the slightly quieter domesticity of this novel deeply touching and moving.

Gods of Jade and Shadow, Silvia Moreno-Garcia

The Jazz Age is in full swing, but Casiopea Tun is too busy scrubbing floors in her wealthy grandfather’s house to do more than dream of a life far from her small town in southern Mexico.

Until the day she accidentally frees an ancient Mayan god of death, who offers her a deal: in return for Casiopea’s help in recovering his throne, he will grant her whatever she desires.

From the jungles of Yucatán to the bright lights of Mexico City and deep into the darkness of Xibalba, the Mayan underworld, Casiopea’s adventure will take her on a perilous cross-country odyssey beyond anything she’s ever known.

Right Ho, Jeeves, P. G. Wodehouse

The trouble which begins with Gussie Fink-Nottle wandering the streets of London dressed as Mephistopheles reaches its awful climax in his drunken speech to the boys of Market Snodsbury Grammar School. For Bertie Wooster’s old friend has fallen in love with Madeline Bassett and, as usual, makes a hash of the affair until Jeeves comes to the rescue. In the meantime, Jeeves must also solve the mystery of the white mess jacket, while sorting out the lives of Bertie’s cousin Angela, her mother, and her mother’s French chef. In short, a normal working day for that prince among gentlemen’s gentlemen in what must be a candidate for the name of the funniest novel in the English language.

The Code of the Woosters, P. G. Wodehouse

‘There are moments, Jeeves, when one asks oneself, “Do trousers matter?”‘

‘The mood will pass, sir.’

Aunt Dahlia has tasked Bertie with purloining an antique cow creamer from Totleigh Towers. In order to do so, Jeeves hatches a scheme whereby Bertie must charm the droopy and altogether unappealing Madeline and face the wrath of would-be dictator Roderick Spode. Though the prospect fills him with dread, when duty calls, Bertie will answer, for Aunt Dahlia will not be denied.

In a plot that swiftly becomes rife with mishaps, it is Jeeves who must extract his master from trouble. Again.

The ultimate escapism into glorious absurdity the celebrates and satirises the Jazz Age wonderfully.

To The Lighthouse, Virginia Woolf

Every summer, the Ramsays visit their summer home on the beautiful Isle of Skye, surrounded by the excitement and chatter of family and friends, mirroring Virginia Woolf’s own joyful holidays of her youth. But as time passes, and in its wake the First World War, the transience of life becomes ever more apparent through the vignette of the thoughts and observations of the novel’s disparate cast.

A landmark of high modernism and the most autobiographical of Virginia Woolf’s novels, To the Lighthouse explores themes of loss, class structure and the question of perception, in a hauntingly beautiful memorial to the lost but not forgotten.

Another classic, one which when I first read it did not chime – perhaps because I was a teenager in my first year of University and in no way ready for it. But a re-read as an adult blew me away! At least most of it also fits the interbellum time scale if less jazzy than some of these reads!

Upcoming Top Ten Tuesday Themes

December 13: Books on My Winter 2022-2023 To-Read List
December 20: Books I Hope Santa Brings This Year
December 27: Most Recent Additions to My Book Collection (What books did you get as presents this holiday season? Or what did you buy with gift cards?)

January 3: Favorite Books of 2022
January 10: Most Anticipated Books Releasing in the First Half of 2023
January 17: Bookish Goals for 2023
January 24: New-to-Me Authors I Discovered in 2022 (If you didn’t read books by 10 new authors, share new-to-you authors whose books you added to your TBR in 2022. Get creative, if needed!)
January 31: Freebie

23 thoughts on “Top Ten Tuesday: Books Set in the Interwar Years”

  1. Some great books here! I felt the same as you when I first read To the Lighthouse, but the second time I loved it. I haven’t read any of Jessica Fellowes’ books. I must look out for them, they sound very good.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This is a great idea for a theme this week. I’ve read and enjoyed Gatsby and Gods of Jade and Shadow and Right Ho, Jeeves and Remains of the Day. I intend to read Killers of the Flower Moon next year which is also set in this time period.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Gods of Jade and Shadow sounds different and interesting. There’s a ‘retelling’ of Gatsby you may enjoy if you haven’t read it already. The Chosen and The Beautiful by Nighi Vo told from the perspective of a Korean friend who’s often on the outside looking in. Excellent idea for a new list. Thanks for the visit.
    Terrie @ Bookshelf Journeys

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Super topic–one of my favorite historical periods. I’ve enjoyed the first few Mitford series books (I started mid series) and have read all of their own books and several bios. I loved Remains of the Day–even the movie! What a fun post!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. What a great list and topic choice! I love Atkinson’s writing and Shrines of Gaiety appeals to me. I hope you are enjoying it. I confess The Great Gatsby isn’t one of my favorite novels, but it says a lot about that time period.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Ooh interesting topic! I’ve read a couple of books this year set in the inter-war period: Resistance Women by Jennifer Chiaverini, which covers the rise of the Nazis in Germany and the formation of resistance groups both pre and during WWII and Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life which also takes place a little in the inter-war period but I guess the actual war years are a slightly bigger focus. I have to admit, I didn’t much love either, both were a little lengthy and the characters a little flat, but of the two, I definitely preferred Resistance Women, I learned a lot about a German resistance group I hadn’t previously known much about, and the author captured the atmosphere of Berlin under the Nazis very well.
    My TTT:


  7. Such a cool idea.. I am sure I have read books set in this timeline too though I can’t immediately recall any..
    As far as the books on this list, though many have been on my mind, I am yet to read all of them.. I did see the movie based on Remains of the Day ages ago and recall that I liked it a lot..
    Here is my TTT


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