The Love-charm of Bombs by Lara Feigel

The Love-charm of Bombs  cover

The Love-charm of Bombs by Lara Feigel is subtitled Restless Lives in the Second World War and it’s mainly about the lives of authors during the war – Elizabeth Bowen, Graham Greene, Rose Macaulay, Rosamond Lehmann, Henry Yorke, Hilde Spiel and various others pop in and out. I think that it’s well known that when people think that today might be their last day on earth they throw caution to the wind and grab what life they can – while they can. All of the authors survived the London blitz of August 1940 and were really in the thick of it having volunteered as ambulance people, firemen, ARP wardens and the like and it seems they really grew to love the excitement of it all. They were just about all promiscuous so this book might come as a shock to those who thought that such sex didn’t exist before the 1960s.

I found the first section of this book to be the most interesting as it’s about the bombing and their experiences, when things settled down and the Nazis turned their attention elsewhere they found life to be rather tame and mundane, the war was just a hard slog and as the authors written about in this book were all rather well off they didn’t have to worry about rationing as most people did, they could always get what they wanted.

There are lots of excerpts from books written by the people involved in this book, but what struck me was considering they were all successful published authors it’s a pity that they had to live the books before they wrote them, instead of using their imagination. Most of them seem to have used their various affairs for copy, they wrote copious love letters to each other but as soon as their backs were turned they were sleeping with someone else and in the case of Graham Greene even habitually using brothels. Yet again I’m puzzled as to why he converted to Roman Catholicism when he had no intention of keeping to the rules, in fact he loved flouting them. Maybe he got a kick out of confessing his sins to priests. But if so then he was sadly mistaken because one of the female authors in this book habitually had affairs with the priests that she had as ‘spiritual advisers’. Honestly it’s all too much for my Presbyterian sensibilities to cope with!

The book carries on into the 1950s when ill health was catching up with a lot of the people involved. For me interest in this book fell off after the early years of the war. I must say that having known a man who was a conscientious objector in WW2 and ended up being an ambulanceman in London, I know that his job was much more harrowing than is portrayed in this book, and his experiences were even worse than those of many servicemen. While others were clearing up rubble and broken glass the ambulancemen cleared up bits of bodies that had been blown all over the place – such as up trees and onto roofs.

Anyway, I’ve digressed-ish, this is quite an interesting read if you read books by these 1930-50s authors, I have to admit that I had never even heard of Henry Yorke and Hilde Spiel, but they were loosely part of the same milieu. I’m quite puzzled by the title of the book because all of those involved were in no need of a war to pep up their sex lives, although it did give them more scope to get on with their infidelities.

After the war Hilde Spiel went back to Germany and Austria and that was interesting, she had done her best to assimilate in England and had been fairly successful. She had had to escape from Austria when the Nazis marched in and she had a harder time socialising with the Germans than the British people had.

I also found the bits about the neutrality of Ireland during the war interesting. Apart from other things apparently they were afraid of being bombed! Rose Macaulay was very lucky in that being Anglo-Irish she had inherited a ‘Big House’ so she was able to go there whenever the bombing in London got too much for her. She was a strange person who believed that she had been accepted by the Irish as being Irish and even had affairs with I.R.A. gunmen, but in reality the fact that she saw herself as being wholly Irish just meant that she was clueless as to how others saw her.

This book is interesting in parts but at 465 pages I felt it dragging in the middle.

The Hotel by Elizabeth Bowen

The Hotel by Elizabeth Bowen is the author’s first book, but it certainly doesn’t read like a first effort. It was first published in 1927 but my edition is from 1950. I really enjoyed this one although not a lot happens, it’s all about the relationships between the various hotel guests.

The setting is a hotel on the Italian Riviera which is frequented by well off English people. It isn’t long after the end of World War 1 so there are far more females around than males in society in general. Friends fall out, one young woman has a rather intense relationship with an older woman. An unmarried vicar arrives and upsets some guests as he inadvertently uses their bathroom, he’s never forgiven but he’s completely oblivious to it. It’s the funniest episode in the book. Some people are completely delusional, would be horrified to know what others think of them. People are ‘dropped’. Those who should know better fall in and out of love at the drop of a hat. There’s nothing at all earth shattering, but it is entertaining.

Elizabeth Bowen wrote far more books than I had realised, you can see her output here.

I do enjoy a hotel setting, I suppose because it gives the writer scope for gathering together odd characters who are out of their usual milieu, and everyone is a bit different from usual when they’re on holiday. I seem to have read a lot of books with hotel settings over the years so I might devote a blogpost to them – sometime.

Recent Book Purchases

More Old Books

These are some of the books that I’ve bought over the last few weeks. The Naomi Mitchison and Mary Stewart books will obviously be featuring in my Read Scotland 2016 Challenge. The others are all authors that I’ve enjoyed reading in the past.

1. The Heat of the Day by Elizabeth Bowen
2. Kingfishers Catch Fire by Rumer Godden
3. The Land the Ravens Found by Naomi Mitchison
4. A Game of Hide and Seek by Elizabeth Taylor
5. The Gabriel Hounds by Mary Stewart
6. An Episode of Sparrows by Rumer Godden

At the moment I’m in a hotel room in Ypres (Wipers) – a place I never thought we would get around to visiting, but here we are. Strangely we’re in a lovely hotel with a beautiful view of bomb craters that have become a small lake. At the moment I’m about 30 yards from where the Germans used flame-throwers for the very first time, a sobering thought.

We’ve already visited the Menin Gate and witnessed The Last Post ceremony which takes place at 8 pm every night. It was very well attended.

Photos will be forthcoming at a later date.

The Heat of the Day by Elizabeth Bowen

If you read my recent review of Elizabeth Bowen‘s book The Little Girls you’ll be surprised that I decided to read another of her books. It was a shock to me, in fact when I logged on to My Library Account I was aghast to see that I had requested this book. That’s what happens when you look at blogs late at night and it’s just too easy to click and request books which other bloggers have enjoyed. Luckily I did like this book as much as the other blogger did, sadly I can’t remember which blog it was, do let me know if it was you!

Anyway The Heat of the Day which was first published in 1948 did turn out to be a far better read than The Little Girls, in fact it seems that it was Elizabeth Bowen’s most successful book, I imagine that’s because of the subject matter. The book is based mainly in London during World War 2 which is where Bowen herself was based at the time and she seems to capture the atmosphere of the place perfectly as you would expect from someone who lived through the bombing.

The main character, Stella is a middle aged woman who is having a relationship with Robert who is a few years younger than her. She works for the government. Robert was wounded at Dunkirk, and it seems to have had a psychological effect on him. Depending on his mood his limp can be bad or almost completely unnoticeable.

Stella is divorced and has a son Roderick in the army, his father died soon after the divorce and eventually Roderick inherits an estate in Ireland on the death of a cousin. Ireland was a neutral country and it wasn’t possible for him to travel there as he was in the army. Stella travels there to see to his business affairs, back to the place where she had spent her honeymoon. It’s suffering from the same deprivation as Britain with candles and even matches being in short supply.

Harrison is also working for the government, he’s a counter spy and he’s haunting Stella whom he has fancied from afar for years. He tells her that Robert is suspected of being a spy.

Nothing is as it seems in this book as you would expect from a spy story. Looking at Bowen’s own life it’s easy to see that she used a lot of her own experiences to write it, with a character who suffers from mental infirmity (supposedly) and she herself inherited an estate in Ireland.

This book is regarded as one of the best portrayals of London during the bombing raids of World War 2, when people lived for the moment, never knowing if they were going to wake up in the morning or not.

The book was adapted for TV in 1989.

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.