Sunday, July 27, 2008

Sunday Salon 26 July 2008

Well, Salonists, I am happy to report that I actually finished Elizabeth Bowen's THE HOUSE IN PARIS. This book started somewhat mysteriously with two children being left in the house of a confirmed spinster in a house in Paris sometime in the early twentieth century. For several months I had worked through these few pages, a few sentences at a time, enjoying it, but for some reason not getting on with it, although I had no intention of abandoning it. In fact I read several other, faster-paced books at the same time. And, all the while, at the back of my head, these two children talked to each other and to the woman and to the elderly woman who was bed-ridden upstairs, and I got the idea they'd both been abandoned somehow - through death and misfortune.

Then, last week, I got onto part two - which turned out to be the main story of the book - one that happened ten years before the initial part of the book, and is about the denial of love.

Karen, the main protagonist (who is engaged to Ray who has had to go overseas) has been invited by Naomi (who is the spinster in the first part of the book) to tea with Naomi's fiancé, Max. These three, Max, Karen and Naomi, are old acquaintances. Karen is wary of Max and has been reluctant to meet him again - and only does so to please Naomi. As usual Max and Karen spar with each other, and once again Karen is hurt while Naomi tries to maintain peace.

The following scene is pivotal and my favourite part of the book. They are having tea outside the old house of Naomi's late aunt and it is almost time to go. Naomi has gone inside to answer the door to someone while Max and Naomi remain sitting under the trees.
'...There was nothing left to do but lock up the house; they ought to start back soon. The poplars, the crimson-showering cherry, the lawn, the window belonging to the past already. An indoor chill, like in some room where nothing ever goes on, began to settle on Karen.

"We'll bring the tray in when we go."

But they both sat back, her hand near his. Max put his hand on Karen's, pressing it into the grass. Their unexploring, consenting touch lasted; they did not look at each other or at their hands. When their hands had drawn slowly apart, they both watched the flattened grass beginning to spring up again, blade by blade.

Naomi came out busily through the window, taking off her overall, flapping the white sleeves. 'Alas,' she said, 'this time tomorrow we shall be gone, Karen.'

That act, on its own, simply stated and then left there, stayed in my mind. There is no description of thought or feeling, but just that statement of the way they watched the grass rebound - it is terse, powerful and significant.

There is more fine writing in this very fine book. I found it on Jane Smiley's booklist in THIRTEEN WAYS OF LOOKING AT A NOVEL (another good book I haven't finished - but that book is very long) and it makes me want to read the rest of her suggestions.

Since then I have started another good book: NOW YOU SEE HIM by Eli Gottlieb. This is a much easier book and the pages are turning far more rapidly. I am two-thirds of the way through after just a few hours - as Ann Patchett says, it is a literary page-turner. It is about friendship, marriage and family with stunning descriptions of grief and bereavement.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

What stunning writing. I have a couple of Bowen books on the shelves but haven't read anything. I must put that right. The Smiley book is another that I've been meaning to get hold of. I love her fiction. I suspect this is one I will want to buy rather than borrow so I must explore whether it's available in paperback.

Sun Jul 27, 09:42:00 am  
Blogger gautami tripathy said...

I am getting that Bowen book. Sounds good to me!

Here is my SS post

Sun Jul 27, 02:58:00 pm  
Blogger John (@bookdreamer) said...

I have the Jane Smiley book in my one day sights

My Blog

Sun Jul 27, 04:28:00 pm  
Blogger BooksPlease said...

I do like Elizabeth Bowen's books, but I haven't read The House in Paris - it sounds as though I should. The other books sound just right for me too.

Sun Jul 27, 05:38:00 pm  
Blogger Clare Dudman said...

TT and Gautami: Yes, I highly recommend the Bowen.

Booksplease: I have heard that many people think that this Paris one is Bowen's best.

TT and John: Yes, I think the Smiley would make a good reference book. The one I have is in paperback but rather unwieldy because of its bulk.

Sun Jul 27, 10:55:00 pm  
Blogger Marie Cloutier said...

Both books look good to me, the Gottlieb and the Bowen. As far as American Wife, it's a fictional memoir based on the life of Laura Bush, and trust me, it's not romantic! :-) Oscar and Lucinda is terrific. I miss literary fiction with all the other stuff I have to read these days!

Mon Jul 28, 01:13:00 am  

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