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 Power and the Glory by Graham Greene

This book features in my Classics Club list of 55 books to read – before bucket time I suppose. It’s one of the many books by Graham Greene which we inherited from Jack’s beloved Grandad and I’ve read one or two of the others but somehow Greene and I just don’t get on. I was particularly disenchanted by the setting of The Power and the Glory as it’s Mexico in the 1930s, during one of their many revolutions. Not my idea of a good subject. The Power and the Glory seems to have been published with the title The Labyrinthine Ways in the US.

Anyway, to the book. The powers that be in the Tabasco area have decreed that the Roman Catholic Church is to be no more and the priests have all left that part of the country one way or another, been shot or have chosen to marry with a government pension rather than die.

At the beginning of the book a man who turns out to be a priest is trying to escape on a boat but he ends up missing his chance of freedom as he is asked to help a peasant in a nearby village. The man turns out to be what the peasants call a whisky priest, a poor specimen of priesthood as not only is he an alcoholic but he has also fathered a child by a villager.

Well aware of his weaknesses the priest continues to minister to villagers, trying to make up for his sins I suppose, whilst also dodging the authorities.

There’s a Judas type character and I suspect that Greene was writing an updated version of sinners and martyrs with the message that no matter what happens the Church will always survive.

Graham Greene did convert to Catholicism but he seems to been one of those people who did that because they were attracted by the thought that they could do whatever they wanted in life and then enjoy confessing it all to some poor priest and have the slate wiped clean ready for them to do it all over again. Tony Blair is another one of that ilk.

Although I must admit that I haven’t heard of Blair having it off in Catholic churches all over the world which apparently was what Greene did. It takes all sorts I suppose. Just as well that our Rev D. didn’t hear about that!

The Quiet American by Graham Greene

Graham Greene wrote this book between 1952 and 1955. He was inspired to write it after spending four weeks as a war correspondent in Indo-China for the Sunday Times and Le Figaro.

It’s set in the beginnings of what later became the Vietnam War. Thomas Fowler is an English war correspondent there and although he has an abandoned wife back in England who refuses to give him a divorce, he has been having a relationship with Phuong, a young Annamite (from eastern Indochina). Phuong is obsessed with the British royal family and hopes to be able to go to London some day.

Pyle is a young American and he is besotted with Phuong from the minute he first sees her. I’m not sure if Pyle is supposed to be ‘not quite the full shilling’ – anyway, he is completely upfront about wanting to take Phuong from Fowler and seems to be under the impression that that means he is a decent man.

Phuong’s main job is to prepare Fowler’s opium pipes and to be a compliant easy lay, basically. Fowler is attached to her because she’s of use to him without giving him any emotional problems.

Fowler was sick of Americans before Pyle came on the scene, he saw them as greedy and imperialistic, making sure that they came out top in any business deals and that their allies the French were left out of things.

Fowler realises that Pyle is working undercover and underneath all that wide-eyed decency and innocence is a dangerous man who thinks in black and white – the white being America and the black being anything against America but particularly communism. Pyle is quite happy to unleash bombs in areas which he knows will be full of innocent people, he thinks the cause is good, so their deaths are unimportant.

As you can imagine this book didn’t go down well with the American reviewers at the time but I think that it’s probably an accurate reflection of what Graham Greene experienced.

This is another one from my 2011 Reading List.

The subject matter wasn’t really my cup of tea, but I quite enjoyed it.

If you’ve read the book and you want a laugh, have a look at this review here from The New York Times 1956.