Friday, July 22, 2005


I discovered the author Elizabeth Bowen while browsing in a bookstore in Galway, Ireland last spring. We had gone to Galway because it was purported to have a lively music scene. Perhaps because we were there mid-week, we found little music and lots of rain. But the first day we were walking Eyre Square, the main area of the old town; no cars, just cobblestone walks and lots of shops. Actually there was quite a street music scene, even in the middle of the day. I met a singer/songwriter from S Carolina, who had gone to Ireland to seek his music fortune. A very nice guy who let me sing a song with his guitar.

But I was missing my reading time and longing for a bookstore to hang out in. I found a wonderful store with three stories crammed with books, new and used. I picked out a nice pile of used books, including A World of Love, by Elizabeth Bowen, which I started but never finished. She was born in Ireland, but moved to London as a young woman, as many Irish writers do. The Heat of the Day was written in 1949, which is why I read it now. Most of the action takes place at night and the weather is not hot, but I think the title refers to the times. It is mid World War II. Stella is a divorced woman with a 20 year old son and a lover. She learns that her lover may be a spy for the enemy. You don't find out until near the end of the book whether or not he is.

The writing is very exquisite. I had to read slowly because the parsing of the sentences was so British and literary, but when she was good, I loved the way she put things. The characters were well defined and each had a distinct voice. The setting of London during bombings, black-outs and food shortages is well described.

Still, I was left feeling unsatisfied at the end. I think the trouble is that I wanted to admire Stella, but she is not really admirable. She is a woman trying to survive in that time and place, wanting love but not all that strong. The point of the story seemed to be the odd relationships that can come about during the upheaval and uncertainty of war.

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