Last September, Elizabeth Bowen 1929
Elizabeth Bowen (1899-1973) is an Irish-English writer who has recently surged back into view with the issuance of her Collected Stories by the Everyman’s Library and a biography by Patricia Lawrence. I was drawn to this book because it was one of Susan Hill’s Best Forty, the forty books that this English writer/critic/publisher would take to a desert island were she to be able to take only 40. Having read it, somewhat painfully, over the last couple of weeks (it was ideal to read in bed when I was having trouble falling asleep) I’m not sure how it made her cut. The action, what there is of it, is terribly slow. The characters are so numerous and confusingly named that I was constantly needing to re-read a paragraph to figure out who was saying what. A recent Wall Street Journal review of the two books mentioned above notes that “Bowen’s prose has an Edwardian sumptuousness.” and “….But more often the story’s exact crisis is buried so deeply beneath the sediment of daily living that is it impossible to disinter.” Amen. Perhaps this is not her best effort, despite Hill, or perhaps the story written nearly 100 years ago hasn’t stood the test of time well—I do admit to being confused about who the Irish and English were fighting. At any rate, I think one can do better when looking for an early 20th C British novel, ‘To the Lighthouse’ for sure.
As an aside, one of the aspects of my BookMarks site that I most enjoy is posting the beautiful cover that most of these books sport. Unfortunately, my source for those covers, Amazon.com, often does not offer the edition that I have read, in many cases, a used book that I’ve found after hours of searching. In the case of the Bowen book, I read a First Anchor edition published in 2000 whose cover displays a beautiful painting by Ambrose McEvoy that hangs in the Bradford Art Galleries and Museum in West Yorkshire, UK. Amazon, sadly, doesn’t offer that edition so I was left posting one of those current editions reissued to accompany a new movie in this case a 2000 film starring Michael Chabon which received 3 stars on Amazon Prime. One must do the best one can.