This is the first Elizabeth Bowen I have read for many many years. I have a memory of having read ‘The Death of the Heart’ and recently decided I may have read A House in Paris – as I realised after seeing another review that the novel sounded very familiar to me. However I have no actual memory of actually reading either book.
I wasn’t sure how I would get along with this book as I know some people consider Elizabeth Bowen to be hard work. I certainly don’t think she is easy – and this book was no quick read – but it was certainly worth the effort.
Set in 1942 The Heat of the day primarily concerns Stella, her lover Robert and the shadowy Harrison. Harrison informs Stella that Robert is a spy – a traitor to his country. Harrison will keep Robert’s betrayal to himself if Stella becomes his lover and rids herself of Robert. However there is much more to the story than that. At the start of the novel we see Harrison attending an outdoor concert in a park on a Sunday afternoon – he is forced into conversation by Louie a woman who is instantly interested in Harrison – despite being a married woman – Harrison contemplating a meeting with Stella is not interested in her. Later we meet Louie again, and Connie her friend and neighbour. Robert Kelway a few years younger than Stella has an eccentric family in the country, living in a house that has been on the market for years - Robert and his sister call their mother Muttikins. Meanwhile Roderick, Stella’s 22 year old son has inherited a house in Ireland where Stella when newly married had spent some time but where neither has been since. As the war heats up, Stella’s world begins to slowly crumble around her – she has no idea whether to believe Harrison, she is in love with Robert – but Harrison says he could hurt the people who she loves.
I thought the writing of this novel is simply superb – the sentence construction is often complex but the resulting prose is brilliant and was often a complete joy to read. This isn’t a heavily plot driven novel, Harrison is a creepy kind of character – subtly drawn and horribly compelling, yet for me he wasn’t a completely malevolent character, showing maybe that people are not necessarily all bad or all good – but much more complex than that. His threats too, are quite subtle –much is implied. Each character is well drawn – their motivations are understood instantly.
I will be looking to read more Elizabeth Bowen, maybe acquire and re-read the book(s) I think I read before but can’t remember.