The Last Day at Bowen’s Court - A Novel by Eibhear Walshe - 2020 - 197 Pages
June 7, 1899 - Dublin, Ireland
February 22, 1973 - London, England
This novel is based on the relationships of Elizabeth Bowen, her husband Alan Cameron, Charles Ritchie and his wife Sylvia.
Bowen and Ritchie met in London in 1940, during the worst of the blitz years. They formed a relationship that would endure, in various transformations, until Bowen’s death in 1973. One of her most famous novels, The Heat of the Day, was based on their relationship.
I first began to read Elizabeth Bowen in February 2011 with a read through of her Short stories. I then read a few of her novels. My sense of her as a person comes from Elizabeth Bowen by Victoria Glendinning.
To me the best of Bowen are her World War Two stories and I was glad to see Walshe drawing on these stories a good bit.
Of course as I read The Last Day at Bowen Court I, as will almost all readers of this book asked myself, is this close to my image of Bowen? Bowen did say her libido was stimulated by The Blitz, knowing death could come at any moment. The consensus, Glendinning supports this, was that Bowen had a strong enotional connection to her husband but there was no sex between them. Walshe in a very interesting scene portrays Bowen’s aunts, to whom she was very close, telling Cameron on meeting him that Bowen is not emotionally equipped to have children. Meaning no sex. One wonders how
Cameron reconcliled this with her several Affairs.
We see a jealous Bowen, hating the woman Ritchie Will marry, his cousin Sylvia. Ritchie is a high ranking Canadian diplomat.
We spend time at the ancestral home of Bowen in North Cork, Bowen’s Court. Cameron and Ritchie becomes friend, of a sort. We see Bowen struggle with a writer’s block.
I did wonder did men in England in the 1940s call their girl friends “old girl” as Ritchie does in the novel.
I enjoyed reading this. I think most fans of Bowen will.
Eibhear Walshe was born in Waterford, studied in Dublin, and now lives in Cork, where he lectures in the School of English at University College Cork and is Director of Creative Writing. He has published in the area of memoir, literary criticism and biography, and his books include
Kate O’Brien: a Writing Life (2006), Oscar’s Shadow: Wilde and Ireland (2012), and A Different Story: The Writings of Colm Tóbín (2013). His childhood memoir, Cissie’s Abattoir (2009) was broadcast on RTE’s Book on One. His novel, The Diary of Mary Travers (2014) was shortlisted for the Kerry Group Novel of the Year in 2015 and longlisted for the 2016 International Dublin Literary Award.