Frances and Bernard
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Frances and Bernard

3.71 of 5 stars 3.71  ·  rating details  ·  1,051 ratings  ·  261 reviews
"A novel of stunning subtlety, grace, and depth . . . compos[ed in] dueling letters of breathtaking wit, seduction, and heartbreak." —Booklist, starred review

A letter can spark a friendship.
A friendship can change your life.

In the summer of 1957, Frances and Bernard meet at an artists’ colony. She finds him faintly ridiculous, but talented. He sees her as aloof, but intrig...more
Hardcover, 208 pages
Published February 5th 2013 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
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Rebecca Foster
A sophisticated epistolary exchange between two fictional authors, based on the not-quite-love affair between Flannery O’Connor and Robert Lowell. With or without knowledge of its historical inspiration, though, this is an erudite and affecting novel.

Novelist Frances Reardon and poet Bernard Eliot meet at a writers’ colony in the summer of 1957. Frances senses traces of John Donne in Bernard’s spiritual poetry, and Bernard loves Frances’s biting satire about a group of nuns. They begin a corresp...more
So what we have here is an epistolary novel about writers who meet in a writer’s colony, inspired by real-life writers, and written by…well, a writer. Based very loosely on the real life correspondence of Flannery O’Connor and Robert Lowell, Ms. Bauer creates two characters that are sort of stand-ins for the more famous writing pair…but not.

The first thing the reader has to decide is, “How much should the real O’Connor-Lowell story influence my reading?” My personal answer was, “Not much.” Sure,...more
My rating: 2.5 of 5 stars
A copy of Frances and Bernard was provided to me by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt/Netgalley for review purposes.

An epistolary novel, or a novel written solely in personal letters mainly between main characters Frances and Bernard. The novel is said to of been influenced by the lives of Flannery O’Connor and Robert Lowell, however, Frances and Bernard are far from a carbon copy. In an author interview with Publisher's Weekly, Carlene stated, "I didn’t want to write historical...more
Read this. Read this now. Romantic, beautiful and heartbreaking.

Edited: After I finished this book, I considered re-reading it immediately.
I would never had thought that reading letters could prove to be so interesting till now. This novel concerns the meeting and befriending of two person both artists and have a keen belief in God. There to and fro in letter replies from their beginning stages till there final letter paints a picture of love for each other, faith and writing. He's a poet soon to publish and she's a visceral writer from Iowa's workshop soon to possibly publish her first book. As their worlds meet one sways more tow...more
Aaron Cance
Without hesitation the finest epistolary novel I've read outside of the 18th Century, I read Frances and Bernard over an eighteen hour period while confined to a hotel room in Kansas City, MO (on account of inclement weather), and was, ultimately, grateful for the layover by way of this book.

Returning to their regular lives after time spent at a writers' colony, Frances and Bernard, two ridiculously charming and intelligent characters, decide to start a correspondence based on mutual respect. Th...more
Stephen Parker
It's not very often that I find in a novel two characters so deeply interesting and so fully human as Frances and Bernard are in this work. Their relationship and it's gradual progression form the entire plot of this novel, and though it is only 200 pages, it succeeds in telling an engaging and complete tale.

Since F & B is told solely through a series of letters, Bauer trusts the reader to fill in some of the gaps in facts, the information the letter writers are witholding. That trust in her...more
C.S. Lewis once wrote: “Friendship is born at that moment when one man says to another: ‘What! You too? I thought I was the only one.’” Frances and Bernard deftly captures the dance of two sharp minds—one based very loosely on Flannery O’Connor and the other less loosely on the poet Robert Lowell—as they are drawn toward each other.

The two begin corresponding after they meet at an artists’ colony, as O’Connor and Lowell did in real life. Barely a line of small talk is exchanged before Bernard l...more
Jenny (Reading Envy)
Two writers meet at a workshop, and continue to correspond after. This story is told entirely in letters, and the author pulls you in to their thoughts and emotions so deeply, so intimately, that it is impossible not to feel! I found it gut-wrenching. Love between friends doesn't always go smoothly, and can't always manifest in traditional ways. That's the story here. Something happens halfway through that turns everything on its ear (something I was not expecting or even needing to have enough...more
Jan 18, 2014 Holly added it
Shelves: audio, 2013-reads
A well-written epistolary novel inspired by the friendship of Flannery O'Connor and Robert Lowell. Truely epistolary - back-and-forth back-and-forth - not like Robinson's Gilead where she could have taken away the scaffolding and it hardly would have mattered. I didn't know enough about O'Connor and Lowell's actual relationship to understand when the novel was moving into fictional territories. but I sure don't think they had a romantic relationship.

I lost something in the audio version - I fel...more
Carolyn O
It’s no secret that Carlene Bauer takes as her models for her correspondents Flannery O’Connor and Robert Lowell; in fact, several reviewers have complained that those (real) voices have not been satisfactorily mimicked, or that Ms. Bauer ought to have worked with material of her own devising.

I confess that I am unmoved by both these objections. It may be heretical to say it, as someone who attended BU and sat in the Lowell room from time to time, but confessional is not my favored poetic brand,...more
I received this book for free as part of the Goodreads First Reads program.

Francis and Bernard is a novel composed mostly of letters between the two title characters, with some letters to and from a few intimate friends. What starts out as a mutual curiosity turns to spiritual sharing then deep friendship, love, heartbreak and finally, a mutual respect.

Francis is the more reserved of the two, and for awhile it is hard to tell whether or not she cares about Bernard. Bernard appears to suffer fro...more
I often love reading books composed of letters between writers. Among my all time list of favorite books are collections of Sand/Flaubert and Nabokov/Wilson letters. There are inherent pleasures in reading letters from literati (including the one I'm slowly savoring now, Saul Bellow's collection). First off, literary people tend to know how to write and express themselves in unique ways. That's why they get paid to write. Second, they are intellectually curious. In Frances and Bernard, we get a...more
Jessica Jeffers
Epistolary novels are a hard thing to pull off well, I think. The author has to create unique voices for two or more characters so that the letters don’t all sound the same, and they have to be able to find a way to explain and describe events that happen “off-screen” in such a way that it doesn’t feel like two people who lived the events describing them to each other in a letter.

Because, really, who does that? Who?

Carlene Bauer has managed to pull off what might just be the best epistolary nov...more
I'm going to be honest: I wasn't sure if I would end up liking or even finishing this book. As I started the book, I found myself wondering if it was going to end up as just a series of letters discussing religion and writing. If that had ended up being true, this book would've taken me a lot longer to finish. Thank goodness I decided to find out if it was just a novel about two writers discussing writing because it ended up being much more beautiful than I could have ever imagined.
The structur...more
Lorri Steinbacher
I vacillated between three and four stars for this one. I loved the epistolary style. I think the form suited the story. Bernard was based on Robert Lowell who has a lot of his correspondence collected so it makes sense that the story would be told in this way. I struggled with all the talk of God and religion. It was an integral part of the story, an integral thread in their correspondence but it did not engage me. Watching as Bernard falls apart, as Frances denies her ability to love, as the t...more
By far, one of my favorite reads of the past year, and probably in my top 20 all-time. The author has created an absolutely beautiful work that reveals the power of the written word to create and strengthen all varieties of relationships. The characters are wonderfully developed without being overdone and the raw humanity that they all express is needed more in literature. It is refreshing to encounter characters that experience difficulties in their lives similar to what the average person goes...more
Brittany E
This is a Houghton book, and I don't usually rate our books just out of fairness, but I am obsessed and I want to tell the world. Love, love, love. I strongly recommend this hugely compelling epistolary novel (I know, weird, right?) for anyone a little voyeuristic with a literary bent and a high tolerance for the teachings of Cathol. Took me a while to get past the religious aspect, because I hadn't realized that was a big part of Flannery O'Connor's life. I am ignorant. But somewhere around pag...more
So far this is the best novel I've read this year (its only late February).

The author Carlene Bauer, uses a real decade long correspondence between Flannery O'Connor and Robert Lowell as her inspiration. While Lowell and O'Connor's relationship never blossomed to romance, this is an imagined conversation, and Bauer's character's are not wholly mappable upon their real counterparts.

This is an epistolary novel. Everything this happens in this novel is relayed by the post--mostly between her chief...more
Susan Tunis
“More than kisses, letters mingle souls.” –John Donne

I love letters—both writing and receiving them. It’s a lost art and an intimate form of communication. Perhaps it is these feelings that make me especially receptive to the epistolary novel. The obvious has only occurred to me recently, but I flat-out love them. Where’d You Go, Bernadette?; The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society; and The Lawgiver were all favorite reads within the last few months. Epistolary novels have an unusual s...more
Stephen Kiernan
Sound the trumpets for an original, compelling, precise, heartbreaking first novel.

This book follows a love affair between two writers who share a love of language, art and religious faith. But he is an unstable drunkard poet from wealthy Boston, and she is a repressed novelist from Pennsylvania. Their relationship is all the more beautiful because it is doomed.

The novel is told entirely through letters, a risky form that sometimes slows the plot. But the thinking is so interesting, and the lan...more
Terri Jacobson
The prose in this book took my breath away. This is writing I dream of, writing you can throw yourself into as a reader and just roll around in and luxuriate in. An example: "...Ted says there is a no better time than losing your mind to cleave to the decencies and unremarkable sentences of the Victorian novel, sentences bearing plot to the reader, like freight car after freight car carrying cargo to its destination in Leeds." Or: "This was similar to what I'd felt during various depressions--wo...more
Beautiful. Heartbreaking. I fell in love with the language of it and the romance of it and the way my heart still hurts now that I've finished it.

It's brilliant but terrible in its lack of traditional happy ending. Both parties end up with - as harsh as this sounds - what they deserve, but God it still hurts.

I never expected to find myself enjoying a book that spoke so much about Catholic God and faith, but they speak of it in a way that's palpable to an agnostic Jew, which I think really says...more
Della O'Shea
I had to finally close the book at page 261, tired of the theological (Irish Catholic) references to sin & saints. Also, the literary references were to works by authors unfamiliar to me. That made it hard for me to understand some of the context of their discussion and I was too frustrated by this too continue reading until, as one reviewer indicates, the characters' relationship transcends the religious issues. I do share the experience of having a dear fiend (in my case two lovers at diff...more
Diane S.
I am giving this book 3 stars because the prose is wonderful as is the historical impetus for the novel. I did, however, get very tired early of the narrative style, book is all in letters, and I found it quite repetitive. How interesting, can a debate be on the Holy Spirit, the soul and other religious matters unless one is a theology major. The letters did give a view of the times, this takes place in the fifties, but the pacing was very slow, at least for me. Not one of my favorites but one t...more
Frances and Bernard by Carlene Bauer is one of those rare books that make me want to buy up copies to give to everyone I know. Bauer writes an exquisite tale of Frances and Bernard entirely through letters and succeeds at creating characters that stay with the reader and make this reader want to reread the book again, another rare occurrence. I cannot praise Bauer’s, Frances and Bernard well enough, other than to highly suggest everyone pick up this beautiful book.
Nick Duretta
This is quite a remarkable book. 'Remarkable' in one sense because, if I had really spent more time learning what it was about before I read it, I might not have read it. If someone had told me, 'It's about two highly intelligent, spiritually conflicted writers who, almost reluctantly, fall in love, yet whose personal demons prevent them--perhaps thankfully--from pairing up in marriage," I would have said 'Thanks, but no thanks.' Yet Frances' and Bernard's story -- told entirely through letters,...more
There is some truly beautiful writing here, and what feel like new insights about life and writing, but for me, the narrative is slack, and the characters uninvolving. In epistolary novels, as in every other kind, you want the feeling that the author is two steps ahead of you. Here, I felt more like I was watching Bauer struggle with the plot.
This book destroyed me emotionally and I loved every moment of it.

The fictionalized epistolary romance/friendship of Flannery O'Connor (Frances) & Robert Lowell (Bernard) is crafted beautifully by the talented Carlene Bauer. I wept softly & bawled something ugly.

There are too many breathtaking passages to quote. You just have to read it.

I am a huge Flannery O'Connor fangirl. Bauer imbues Frances with O'Connor's Catholicism and wit, and her design is not overwrought. Bernard's poetic lea...more
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Carlene Bauer was born in 1973 in New Jersey. She earned an M.A. in Nonfiction Writing from the Johns Hopkins University's Writing Seminars, and has worked in and around New York publishing for this last long while. Her work has been published in The Village Voice, Salon, Elle, The New York Times magazine, and on the website of n + 1. She lives and writes in Brooklyn, and hopes that you don't hold...more
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“Your face says so much in so little time, you let everything you're thinking bloom upon your face, and I can't think of anything else I'd rather watch than you pass through five moods in five minutes. What glorious weather.” 4 likes
“Dear Uncle Bernard -
Your niece Frances - a four-eyed, French-plaited platypus awaiting the evaporation of h baby fat - thanks you very much for the romantic advice. But I've never been one to spend time thinking about why men and women take to each other, or why they don't. I think it can turn a lady neurotic, a term I despise but also am loath to have turned in my direction.”
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