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[216] The Heat of the Day – Elizabeth Bowen


“. . . she had been the onlooker with nothing more to lose—out of feeling as one can be out of breath. She had had the sensation of being on furlough from her own life . . . This was the new society of one kind of wealth, resilience, living how it liked—people whom the climate of danger suited, who began, even, all to look a little alike . . .” [102]

In The Heat of the Day, Elizabeth Bowen captures the tense and precarious atmosphere of London during the bombing raids of World War II. Stella Rodney, a widow, is among those who have chosen to stay in the city. In 1940, Stella meets Robert Kelway, who was discharged from the hospital after a wound that has left its trace on his walk in a limp. War may have destined their meeting as many stayers-on find themselves thrown together in an inevitable intimacy born of crisis.

By every day, every night, existence was being further drained—you, yourself, made conscious of what was happening only by some moment, some meeting such as tonight. [58]

Little did she know that Robert is a wounded man from Dundirk who is suspected of selling secrets to the Germans. The Battle of Dundirk was the defense and evacuation of British and Allied forces in 1940. A large Allied force was cut off in northern France by a German armored advance to the English channel. The man who has been tailing Robert, one Harrison, uses what he knows about his being a traitor to implement blackmail. He wants Stella Rodney as the price for his silence.

. . . true love is to be recognised by its aberrations; so shocking can these be, so inexplicable to any other person, that true love is seldom to be recognised at all. [160]

Caught in between two men she is unsure whom to believe. With one she feels they might have stayed forever on the eve of being in love. With the other at times conversations aren’t even possible but in whose absence she feels emptiness of life. Feeling of being on furlough of her senses and mental faculty, Stella conceives how little she can trust the people around her. Much to her chagrin is her son’s decision to move into Mount Morris, a bequest of her late cousin.

But, what now? The conceivability of there being a grain of truth in anything he had ever, in any context, said shook her. [190]

The prose of The Heat of the Day is rich in quasi-Virginia Woolf sensibility. The writing is highly contemplative and descriptive. Woven together in the novel are emotional betrayal and deception of a bizarre love triangle, Although written with grace and atmospheric tenacity, the book itself is not plot-driven. The tossing back and forth, the rumination on what might be the bottom of the affair, or the grain of the truth, beg a palpable storyline which Bowen doesn’t deliver. The dialogues can be stilted at times. Some passages try my patience (under the heat of the day in Lake Las Vegas) more so than Rebecca West’s works do.

372 pp. [Read/Skim/Toss]

19 Responses

  1. You really decide for your readers! I know now that I will not read Heat of the Day but I’m dying to read The Death of the Heart. The pun in the last line (or, am I using the wrong term?) is great. Thanks! I don’t why but when I was reading this review, I was reminded of “The Daylight on Saturday”. It’s by J. B. Priestley. I really have no idea why I was reminded of it, may be its just the cover. It was on my shelf for sometime but I was foolish enough to loose it somehow without reading it. (This once finally I’m the first commenter! 🙂

  2. Having just finished Sarah Waters’ The Night Watch, I was thinking that I’d like to read more books set in this time period. It’s too bad this one didn’t live up to its potential, but are there any others you’d recommend?

  3. I had very similar thoughts about this book. I was quite disappointed because all of the other Bowen works that I’ve read are so great.

  4. This is just the exact thing I would pick up to read. I am all over anything written on that time period. I appreciate the honesty, and know that if you aren’t glowing over it, I certainly wouldn’t be either.

  5. This is a problem Bowen has — not moving forward, but not giving the reader something that’s so beautiful that you don’t care (which is Woolf’s singlar talent). Still, this sounds like a GREAT plot, don’t you think? And i do love this time period.

  6. I am obsessed with all things WWII and this is going on my list just out of principle. Thanks!

    Might I suggest you try, if you are looking for something more readable on the same subject, Helen Humphreys’s novella Coventry? I just finished it and am struggling to get down into words how brilliant it is.

  7. This one did sound intriguing when you described it a while back. But I noticed that you gave it a “skim” which means a skip for me!!! 🙂

  8. It sounds a little bit like the author was almost trying too hard to do what she thought the book should rather than just let it happen! Or am I completely wrong… Quite possibly ha as I always get Elizabeth Bowen and Elizabeth Buchan mixed up which is very very wrong!

  9. rhodoraonline:
    Ah…I forgot to mention that I did enjoy The Death of the Heart, of which the prose is just as contemplative but the plot is more accessible.

  10. Nymeth:
    As a matter fact, yes, I think you should try The German Woman by Paul Griner, which a recent release. It’s set in the exact same time period about a woman who was a nurse.

  11. Molly:
    I would continue to read Elizabeth Bowen because I think this particular book has autobiographical elements to them. But she doesn’t seem to be able to pull off what she has started.

  12. Sandy:
    No I’m not, but this book won’t deter me from reading Bowen, knowing that I have enjoyed The Death of the heart. I’ll have to try again. 🙂

  13. bloglily:
    The plot at the beginning has great potential. Every two pages or so she would cultivate these beautiful lines that contemplate philosophical entities of life and love, but they don’t move the plot forward.

  14. Connie:
    I’ve written down Coventry on my list! Thanks so much for the recommendation. 🙂

  15. Staci:
    It’s a skim yes because I’ve found my patience draining about halfway.

  16. savidgereads:
    I feel the same way you do. I rather her just tell me what happens to the whole espionage and not to drift in this round about way.

  17. I hadn’t heard of this one before your review. I might give it a try. Is it okay to link to your review on War Through the Generations?

    Btw, I loved Coventry. I highly recommend it.

  18. […] I read, Gods and Monsters really fell short—it was disappointing. Elizabeth Bowen’s The Heat of the Day also didn’t live up to the league of her other […]

  19. […] The Heat of the Day is one of Bowen’s most popular, beloved books.  Many have written about it, including some of my fave bloggers.  For more thoughts: Book Snob, Harriet Devine’s Blog, The Reading Life, Reader in the Wilderness, Novel Readings, Heavenali, and A Guy’s Moleskin Notebook. […]

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