The Little Girls by Elizabeth Bowen

The Little Girls cover

The Little Girls by Elizabeth Bowen was first published in 1964.

I don’t think I’ve ever read anything else by Elizabeth Bowen, if I did it was way back in the year dot, but I know that she has a lot of loyal fans so I thought I would be on to a winner with this one. How wrong I was!

I really felt like giving up on this book very early on, something which I almost never do, I ploughed on thinking that it would get better and it must be my fault that I wasn’t enjoying it. I now wish I hadn’t wasted my time.

The Little Girls is about three women in their 50s who had been friends at school when they were eleven years old in 1914. They hadn’t kept in touch with each other over the years and only recently got in contact with each other again. There’s supposed to be a mystery, something which happened in their past, but really the characters are so unlikeable that I couldn’t care less about any of them and the so called mystery was just boring.

Apart from that the book is very dialogue heavy, it’s almost all dialogue which wouldn’t be too bad if the writing itself was good, but I found myself having to re-read the same sentences again and again because the words had been written in unusual order, making it read as if Yoda was speaking. Sadly I couldn’t find the part of the book which annoyed me most, it was really unintelligable, as if there must have been a few missing crucial words. My bit of paper marking the page fell out, but here’s another excerpt, this bit is just clunky and there’s a lot like it in the book, judge for yourself:

Instead she trod with crushing deliberation from one to another and then the next of the carpet’s barely distinguishable roses. The child had been (each time, through inability to get away in time) in the distasteful presence of grown up persons who became ‘overcome’ – whether by heat, sea sickness, vertigo, stage fright or bad news. Of inferior calibre did she find them. With more like sympathy she had watched one soldier after another faint on parade.

I don’t think you should have to re-read sentences to work out what is being said. Maybe I shouldn’t have read it as a bedtime book. Anyway, I’m now beginning to read Hilary Mantel’s Every Day is Mother’s Day and I hope I have more joy with that one.

4 thoughts on “The Little Girls by Elizabeth Bowen

  1. I’ve only read one book by her, To the North, and I liked it, but the prose was very dense (though shot through with a fair bit of humor). But I sensed that liking her other books wasn’t necessarily a sure thing, as To the North also had this melodramatic quality that could have tipped me to a different opinion if the rest of the book’s elements hadn’t come through.

    • Christy,

      I just picked up her book The Heat of the Day from the library, I requested it after reading an article in the Guardian about it, so I hope that one will be more enjoyable, I enjoy a World War 2 setting so I live in hope.

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