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The Heat of the Day
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Buddy Reads > The Heat of the Day by Elizabeth Bowen (May/June 2018)

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message 1: by Nigeyb (last edited May 10, 2018 01:55AM) (new)

Nigeyb | 10384 comments Mod
Welcome to our buddy read for....


The Heat of the Day by Elizabeth Bowen

In The Heat of the Day , Elizabeth Bowen brilliantly recreates the tense and dangerous atmosphere of London during the bombing raids of World War II.

Many people have fled the city, and those who stayed behind find themselves thrown together in an odd intimacy born of crisis. Stella Rodney is one of those who chose to stay. But for her, the sense of impending catastrophe becomes acutely personal when she discovers that her lover, Robert, is suspected of selling secrets to the enemy, and that the man who is following him wants Stella herself as the price of his silence. Caught between these two men, not sure whom to believe, Stella finds her world crumbling as she learns how little we can truly know of those around us.




Susan | 10639 comments Mod
I hadn't read this one before. I think Bowen is one of those novelists you either love, or hate. Personally, I really love her writing and thought this a fascinating account of wartime London.


Roman Clodia | 5685 comments Mod
I'm only a couple of chapters in on this re-read: I find I need quiet and concentration for Bowen as so much of her meaning lies in the spaces between what is said - definitely not a commute read!


Susan | 10639 comments Mod
No, certainly not. She is a very quiet, thoughtful writer.


message 5: by Nigeyb (new)

Nigeyb | 10384 comments Mod
I don't plan to read this but will follow the discussion with great interest.

I certainly heartily concur with the requirement to be able to concentrate, and ponder, to appreciate her work.


Susan | 10639 comments Mod
https://www.londonfictions.com/elizab...

https://www.theguardian.com/books/201...

I have put a couple of interesting links up - one a great review from London Fictions. Also, a link which puts this as one of the top 100 books in The Guardian list (no. 69).


message 7: by Nigeyb (new)

Nigeyb | 10384 comments Mod
I'm a huge fan of the London Fictions website. A great source of inspiration - especially if, like me, you love reading books set in London


Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 4674 comments Mod
Susan wrote: "I hadn't read this one before. I think Bowen is one of those novelists you either love, or hate. Personally, I really love her writing and thought this a fascinating account of wartime London."

I don't hate her, but I've found the two books I've read by her so far a bit disappointing. I don't really warm to her style of writing, which seems rather rambling and repetitive.

I thought this novel was very uneven - for me the digressions and sub-plots are much better than the main plot! I really liked the chapters set in Ireland and those featuring Robert's eccentric relations, but I didn't find the romance or the spy plot very convincing - but anyway, looking forward to our discussion, and to finding out what I've missed. :)


Susan | 10639 comments Mod
I love her writing. I think she's the literary equivalent of a long, warm bath - as opposed to modern writing, so often a quick shower! I have to be in the mood for her, but, if I am, then she is best enjoyed with tea and chocolate and without rushing. As RC says, not one for the commute...


Roman Clodia | 5685 comments Mod
I agree with Judy that Bowen's style can be idiosyncratic so that she almost sounds at times like English isn't her first language. And then she writes something so dense and complex to offset it.

I've just finished the excruciating tea party with Robert's awful mother and sister, and really enjoy Bowen's humour: that moment when poor Stella says 'Oh, but I drink a great deal - of tea, I mean.'!

And fascinating how Robert's bedroom is used to throw light on his personality in respect of Harrison's assertions.

I find the conversations incredibly tense, with so many undercurrents and things not said.


Susan | 10639 comments Mod
Robert's sister was a fantastic character!


message 12: by Val (new) - rated it 3 stars

Val | 1709 comments I do like her writing, but like Susan says, I have to be in the right mood for it.


Roman Clodia | 5685 comments Mod
Yes, mood is also one of the things that Bowen is so expert at creating. I'm struck all over again with how adroitly she uses absences (an empty chair, the lack of the sound of a radio) to conjure up ghostly presences.


Susan | 10639 comments Mod
Nothing is really explained, is it? Harrison appears and - although there is some excuse given at the funeral - you know that, really, he has ulterior motives.


Roman Clodia | 5685 comments Mod
Yes, and I like the way her characters are mysterious and surprising. Even when they analyse their own motives and feelings, there are still elements which wriggle away and escape.

I'm struck, too, by the odd, almost perverse, intimacy that springs up between Stella and Harrison: those moments in her flat when he watches her take off her shoes, or brings her a glass of milk.

The smallest actions have deep significance in Bowen.


Roman Clodia | 5685 comments Mod
Just came across this line spoken by Robert but which might almost serve as an epigraph to Bowen's fiction: 'You'll have to reread me backwards, figure me out'.


Susan | 10639 comments Mod
Yes, she always seems oddly comfortable with him, doesn't she? I liked the idea of her flat too, at the top of a dentist, if I recall correctly? I read a crime series by David Jackson and his detective lives in Rodney Street, in Liverpool, in a flat above a dentists. It reminded me of that - the empty building, where you need to climb all those stairs, and pass all those closed doors, to get to the top.


Roman Clodia | 5685 comments Mod
Yes, doctors' and dentists' surgeries, all that empty space beneath them, as you say - kind of prefigures the end.

I've just finished this - it definitely stands up to re-reading.


message 19: by Val (new) - rated it 3 stars

Val | 1709 comments I am enjoying the atmosphere of this, particularly her evocation of wartime and how the darkness changes things, but there is too much plot for her writing style.


message 20: by Judy (new) - rated it 3 stars

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 4674 comments Mod
I agree about Stella and Harrison - there always seems to be a connection between them, somehow.

A character who really didn't work for me was Louie - what did anyone else think of her? She just doesn't come alive, somehow, and she isn't portrayed with much sympathy - I feel as if Bowen is shuddering at her, unlike the equally eccentric characters in the English and Irish countryside, who are drawn with a lot of affection.


Roman Clodia | 5685 comments Mod
Yes, I agree that Louie feels under-developed both as a character and in terms of her role in the novel. I liked the way we first see her making a move on the disconcerted Harrison but then she becomes a bit vague. I can see that she adds to the louche atmosphere of war-time London, especially as a young woman whose husband is away but she feels a bit convenient.


Susan | 10639 comments Mod
Not sure whether we are doing spoilers yet, but I thought the ending of the novel (or, rather, Louie's part in it) was both shocking and totally realistic. I remember my grandmother telling me similar stories about neighbour's of hers.


message 23: by Val (new) - rated it 3 stars

Val | 1709 comments Louie does pop in and out of the story at convenient moments, so she can feel more like a plot device than a rounded character. I think the difference between her and the colourful countryside characters is that they have always been the same, whereas her behaviour is caused by the wartime situation.


message 24: by Judy (new) - rated it 3 stars

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 4674 comments Mod
That’s a good point about her feeling like a plot device, Val. I didn’t find her relationship with her sister very believable.


Susan | 10639 comments Mod
It was interesting that she wrote Ireland into the novel. This was very much a biographical novel in many ways, isn't it?


message 26: by Judy (new) - rated it 3 stars

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 4674 comments Mod
I really liked all the Irish bits, though they don't seem to be tied in with the London part very much.


message 27: by Val (new) - rated it 3 stars

Val | 1709 comments As I saw it, the Irish bits are countryside instead of city, traditional or timeless instead of in the moment, and at peace instead of at war. Even there the war has an impact in the shortage of imported goods and that is where Stella gets news of the first British victory, but there are no blackouts or bombs and none of the fear that everything might suddenly come to an end.


message 28: by Judy (new) - rated it 3 stars

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 4674 comments Mod
It was interesting in Ireland how the staff tried to hide from Stella the extent to which they were affected by the war, using up their rations and their candles for her.

Are we okay to get into spoilers for this novel yet, or is anyone still reading?


Susan | 10639 comments Mod
I am fine for spoilers, Judy.


message 30: by Val (last edited May 25, 2018 11:58PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Val | 1709 comments I have finished, so am fine with spoilers. Nigey said he was not intending to read it, but would follow the discussion. I think only four of us are reading it.
RC, are you OK with spoilers?


Roman Clodia | 5685 comments Mod
Yes, I'm fine for spoilers too.


message 32: by Judy (new) - rated it 3 stars

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 4674 comments Mod
Thanks everyone. Getting into spoilers here ... I thought the whole spying storyline didn’t work at all and suffered by comparison with Graham Greene in particular. I couldn’t see why Robert had decided to spy for Germany or why Stella apparently wasn’t worried about it. A major flaw in the novel for me.


message 33: by Val (new) - rated it 3 stars

Val | 1709 comments Judy wrote: "I thought the whole spying storyline didn’t work at all and suffered by comparison with Graham Greene in particular."
It didn't work for me either. I suppose you could argue that Stella did not believe he was a spy until that last evening, but none of the three players in the drama are convincing.


Roman Clodia | 5685 comments Mod
For me, Robert lays out his reasons in chapter 15, and they are ideological:

'Country? - there are no more countries left; nothing but names... we have come out at the far side of that... we who are ready for the next thing. [...] Betrayal?...Don't you understand that all that language is dead currency?'

And then, chillingly: 'Who could want to be free when he could be strong?'

Stella, I think, considers the true betrayal to be personal: for her it's about the fact that Robert has been lying to her, refusing to share his true self with her so that she questions whether he ever loved her at all.

Yet she's been doing something similar, in lying about the fact that her husband left her rather than the other way around, and telling the truth to Harrison to whom she doesn't have to pretend precisely because she doesn't care about him. Her own deceptions excuse his, in her eyes. Personal love, for her, supersedes patriotic loyalty.

From the other Bowen I've read, her concerns are with the crises of the personal, and her wartime setting accentuates the anxiety of the individual. International politics, it seems, is a vehicle for her explorations of the interiority of Stella and her relations with Robert and Harrison.

So I can understand your issue, Judy, but it wasn't a problem for me.


Roman Clodia | 5685 comments Mod
Just thought, perhaps Bowen is following in the footsteps of Jane Austen and her 'two inches of ivory' where the Napoleonic Wars, for example, are merely a background to the romance in Persuasion.


Susan | 10639 comments Mod
I agree - her personal love was above patriotism. However, I didn't find Robert a particularly convincing spy. I found Harrison far more compelling than Robert and his 'relationship' to Stella, such as it was, was more interesting to me.


message 37: by Judy (new) - rated it 3 stars

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 4674 comments Mod
I think the two inches of ivory might work better if the war was just a backdrop, without the spy melodrama. Robert’s reasons for treachery don’t really make sense to me, and it’s hard to believe that Stella, whose son is in the British army, would be quite so serene about her lover working for the enemy.


Roman Clodia | 5685 comments Mod
It's interesting what we all find convincing or not: I had no problem with this but couldn't believe in The End of the Affair for a second!


message 39: by Val (new) - rated it 3 stars

Val | 1709 comments I found it hard to believe that Harrison, who is supposed to work in counter-intelligence, would use the knowledge that someone was working for the enemy to try to blackmail a woman into having sex with him instead of dealing with the threat to national security.


message 40: by Judy (new) - rated it 3 stars

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 4674 comments Mod
I agree, Val - none of the three seem to be interested in the consequences of the spying beyond their personal relationships.


Roman Clodia | 5685 comments Mod
I agree, too - I just didn't find that a problem. Bowen is interested in how Stella will react under extreme and unusual circumstances. I was intrigued, for example, that she was willing to sleep with Harrison to buy time for Robert. That tells us so much about her as a character.


Susan | 10639 comments Mod
I didn't find it a problem either, to be honest. Stella didn't really take the idea of her lover as a spy seriously until the very end and, even so, she loved him too much to want to do more than protect him. Yes, her son was fighting, and there was a war on, but - in reality, Bowen is saying it is the personal that affect us.

If you read a lot about 'real' spies, such as the Cambridge Spies, you realise that there were a lot of unprofessional spies about at the time, all with personal agendas that were over-riding at times. How much did they believe in what they were doing? I enjoyed "The End of the Affair," but I agree with RC that this was more believable to me in a lot of ways.


message 43: by Judy (new) - rated it 3 stars

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 4674 comments Mod
I thought the spying storyline and resulting plot twists in The Human Factor were far more believable than in this book - choosing my words with care to avoid posting spoilers for that one.

To go off at a tangent, I was interested to see that there is a young soldier who is always referred to as "Christopher Robin", presumably called after the Winnie the Pooh books ... makes you wonder how many babies were saddled with that name, which caused a lot of problems for the original one?


Susan | 10639 comments Mod
Hmmm. I always think of, "Rodney Had a Relapse," whenever I hear the words Christopher Robin! I do LOVE the Pooh books though and I found A A Milne's biography absolutely fascinating, but he would, undoubtedly, not be thrilled to know that he is certainly best known for Winnie the Pooh!


message 45: by Val (new) - rated it 3 stars

Val | 1709 comments I gather that both A A and C R Milne were embarrassed by the success of "Winnie the Pooh".


message 46: by Val (new) - rated it 3 stars

Val | 1709 comments Stella's thoughts and feelings are explored, so I did not have as much difficulty believing in her, but Robert's justification is just plonked into one speech with nothing leading up to it and Harrison's motivations are all wrong.
I wondered if 'Cousin Francis' was going to be caught up in the espionage plot in some way, but his reasons for coming to the UK were never fully explained.


Roman Clodia | 5685 comments Mod
I had the impression that Cousin Francis had offered to help the British in protest against Ireland's neutrality, hence his connection with Harrison - but, yes, it's vague and undefined.

I adore Pooh, too! I recently bought the first book for my nephew but he didn't like it at all (no superheroes or spaceships!) so I kept it for myself :)


message 48: by Val (new) - rated it 3 stars

Val | 1709 comments Roman Clodia wrote: "I had the impression that Cousin Francis had offered to help the British in protest against Ireland's neutrality, hence his connection with Harrison - but, yes, it's vague and undefined."
He did offer his help and it was some time before it was accepted, but I was expecting to find out something a bit more definite.


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