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 Towers of Trebizond by Rose Macaulay

The Towers of Trebizond cover

The Towers of Trebizond by Rose Macaulay was published in 1956 and it won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize. I’m attempting to work my way through the long list of all the books that have won the prize, it’ll be a long task.

This is a book that some bloggers have been raving about, although I enjoyed it I did find it a bit of a drag at times, it’s definitely curate’s eggish. The thing is though – the good parts are really very good, so funny. I’m not a big fan of organised religions and there are quite a few long passages about Christianity and other religions that were just a bit too long for my liking. It seems it’s all very autobiographical.

Laurie the narrator sets of on a tour of Turkey with her rather eccentric Aunt Dot and a very high anglican priest called Father Chantry-Pigg. Aunt Dot intends to write a book about their journey and Laurie will illustrate it. Dot has an ulterior motive though, she’s a keen supporter of women’s rights and as she regards the Moslem religion as being so controlling of women, she’s on a mission to convert them to Christianity.

Father Chantry-Pigg is Dot’s terrifically intolerant and snooty companion, and Doctor Halide is a female doctor who has been converted to Christianity from the Moslem faith of her upbringing, mainly because she can’t agree with the way Moslem women are treated.

Laurie has been having an affair with a married man for the last ten years, and that has put something of a dampener on her religious life.

Famously this book begins: ‘”Take my camel dear,” said my aunt Dot, as she climbed down from this animal on her return from High Mass.’

The reason why she is having to travel on a camel is because while she had been dining with Prof Gilbert Murray and Archbishop David Mathew, her Morris car had been stolen by an Anglican bishop!

With Aunt Dot and Father Chantry-Pigg disappearing over the Russian border and Laurie having to continue her travels on her own with the camel, this is definitely worth reading although I can’t say I liked the ending.

You can read Jack’s much more detailed/analytic thoughts on the book here.