The House in Paris by Elizabeth Bowen (1935, 239 pages)
I first read the work of Elizabeth Bowen (1889 to 1973, Dublin) after reading about her in Hermione Lee's great Virginia Woolf. There are no public libraries here in Manila so I looked online for something by Bowen to read before I made any purchases. I found a short story I really enjoyed, "Demon Lover", that could be read online. I then contacted the best book store in Manila and bought all the Bowen titles they had in stock. I have already posted on Last September. I additionally obtained The House in Paris, Eva Trout, The Heat of the Day and a beautiful 800 page collection of her short stories. After reading Victoria Glendinning's wonderful literary biography, Elizabeth Bowen, I think it would be hard not to like, admire and want to read a lot of the work of Bowen. (There is no shortage of titles-Vintage Classics has about 25 in print.)
The House in Paris is a great book about children and what they do and do not understand about adult relationships. (There is an excellent introduction to the book from A. S. Byatt.) As the book opens we are in a house in Paris in the 1930s. Two children, though they have family ties, have been sent there to stay because of turmoil in their own families. Leopold is waiting to meet his own mother for the first time and Henrietta is waiting to take a train ride to meet her primary family. There are twists and turns to the plot and lots of great conversations. Bowen deeply understands the feelings of women and why they fall in love with who they do. There is an amazing conversation about why young women fall for "bad boys" and why some women never grow out of this. . My guess is many will learn something about themselves from these lines. I would say just to read those three or four lines makes the book worth reading. You will know them when you read them. I read them about five times and thought to myself "how could I pass this wisdom on to my three daughters, 12, 14 and 17?"
When Bowen is at her best, her prose and diction is just to be marveled at.
It is to early for me to make any conclusions on Bowen. I am really looking forward to reading more of her novels. I am now 50 pages into The Heat of the Day which many consider among the very best novels set in WWII in London. So far I admit I like it more than the The House in Paris and Last September.
I think I will create an Elizabeth Bowen Reading Life Project to give myself an excuse to put her picture in my sidebar! As a person and a writer Bowen was a "class act".
I am going to read all of her 88 short stories but I will post only on the 10 to 15 consensus best works. Harold Bloom, I was happy to see, lists the short stories of Bowen on his canon list.
Please let us know of your experience with Bowen.