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Frances and Bernard

3.70  ·  Rating Details  ·  1,476 Ratings  ·  334 Reviews
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 intriguing. Afterward, he writes her a letter. Soon they are immersed in the kind of fast, deep friendship that can take over—and change the course of—our lives.

Fro
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Hardcover, 208 pages
Published February 5th 2013 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (first published January 1st 2012)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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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
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Jill
Mar 15, 2013 Jill rated it really liked it
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,
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Bonnie
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
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Emily
Jan 25, 2013 Emily rated it it was amazing
Read this. Read this now. Romantic, beautiful and heartbreaking.

Edited: After I finished this book, I considered re-reading it immediately.
Lou
Feb 06, 2013 Lou rated it it was amazing
Shelves: arc, literature
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
Mar 13, 2013 Aaron Cance rated it it was amazing
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
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Julie
Nov 27, 2014 Julie rated it it was amazing
Shelves: epistolary
Finished this book on an airplane. After I closed the book, I had one of those Moments where I looked around and wanted to ask my fellow passengers "Did you just feel that?" Powerful, beautiful stuff about obsession, love, religious faith, the fragility of sanity, writing, creativity, and pursuit of one's true desires. Lovely, just lovely.
Holly
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
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Stephen Parker
Mar 01, 2013 Stephen Parker rated it really liked it
Shelves: first-reads
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
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Myrthe
Mar 11, 2016 Myrthe rated it liked it
More like 3,5*, I think.

I have mixed feelings about this book. I didn't really like the storyline; I don't like love stories at all and I find them to be a bit boring. Although this story isn't quite the typical love story, it still just wasn't working for me. I didn't feel for the main characters and the abundance of Catholicism annoyed me at times.
But then the writing style. Oh, how I enjoyed the writing style! Thought-provoking, clever and just so beautiful, it was most certainly worth the la
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Ashley
May 29, 2015 Ashley rated it liked it
C.S. Lewis once wrote: “Friendship ... is born at that moment when one man says to another: ‘What! You too? I thought that no one but myself ...’” 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 befor
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Susan Tunis
Apr 06, 2013 Susan Tunis rated it it was amazing
“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
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Carolyn O
Sep 25, 2013 Carolyn O rated it really liked it
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,
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Stephen Kiernan
Feb 19, 2013 Stephen Kiernan rated it really liked it
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
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Jessica
Feb 20, 2013 Jessica rated it it was ok
Shelves: first-reads
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
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Jessica
Jun 12, 2013 Jessica rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction
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
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Alison
Jan 31, 2013 Alison rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2013, from-net-galley
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
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Lorri Steinbacher
Feb 10, 2013 Lorri Steinbacher rated it really liked it
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
Lisa
Jan 27, 2014 Lisa rated it it was amazing
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
Diane S ☔
Jan 26, 2013 Diane S ☔ rated it liked it
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
Brittany E
Jun 26, 2012 Brittany E rated it it was amazing
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
James
Feb 26, 2014 James rated it it was amazing
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
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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
Terri Jacobson
Apr 27, 2013 Terri Jacobson rated it it was amazing
Shelves: literary-fiction
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
Broche
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
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Della O'Shea
Feb 06, 2014 Della O'Shea rated it did not like it
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
D.L.
Mar 08, 2016 D.L. added it
I loved the writing and the way the story developed so well through the letters. I've always wanted a deep and abiding penpalship with a kindred so it appealed to me. But I am not sure I read the same story as everyone else. For me it was two people who developed a friendship over their mutual feelings of superiority over their fellow man. And then Bernard all but forces himself sexually on an ambivalent Frances and has a violent psychotic break everytime he doesn't get his way. And he continues ...more
Michael
Jul 23, 2015 Michael rated it it was ok
Dear Fraces and Bernard, I was delighted to read through your journey about romancing each other. The beautiful cover pulled me initially,although I know that you cannot judge a book by it's cover. However I wanted to give it the benefit of the doubt, who knows, maybe you will impress me? The first few sentences was okay, yet I wanted a meaty story that made me care about the characters. Unfortunately I was not aware that the entire book would be composed of letters, somewhat original but poor e ...more
Jennifer
Feb 18, 2013 Jennifer rated it it was amazing
Shelves: literary
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
Jun 06, 2014 Nick Duretta rated it it was amazing
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
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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.” 9 likes
“I am in no mood to fulminate on paper--I wish the two of us were in a room together talking of what matters most, the air thick with affinity. In January a man crawls into a cave of hopelessness; he hallucinates sympathies catching fire. Letters are glaciers, null frigates, trapping us where we are in the moment, unable to carry us on toward truth.” 4 likes
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