9 August 2013

The Love-charm of Bombs by Lara Feigel

Lara Feigel, wherever you are...thank you one million times over for writing this book!

The past five years of my reading life have pretty much been centered around World War II and twentieth-century authors.  So you can imagine the excitement when I discovered that there was a book, hot off the press at the beginning of the year, blending two of my favourite topics of interest.  The introduction begins with mention of Elizabeth Bowen, The High Priestess of Prose (in my humble opinion), and from there until the last page I was completely swept away by the events.

Feigel drops the reader straight into London with first-hand accounts of endless nights where the sound of bomb blasts, crashing buildings and alarm bells are so vibrant you feel as though you should be wearing a tin helmet just reading about it.  Drawing from the books, writings and letters of Rose Macaulay, Graham Greene, Henry Yorke, Elizabeth Bowen and Hilde Spiel we are given an astoundingly candid peek into their personal lives during a time when people thought they might not live to see morning.

One aspect of war that never fails to astound me is that some people found the Blitz to be a thrilling time and they welcomed the excitement.  Graham Greene and Henry Yorke both carried this sentiment.  Part of the appeal was that their wives were sent out of harms way and seemingly they packed up their sense of commitment and loyalty as well.  Being involved in an affair is a thread which runs through the lives all of the authors featured in this book.  Whether a case of opportunity, companionship or what was de rigueur at the time I can't say but I couldn't help but wonder about the spouses playing third wheel.

The book left me with two heartbreaking images.  Rose Macaulay's building was bombed on 10 May, 1941, she lost her collection of rare books, manuscripts and other necessary possessions.  Her most devastating loss though was the stacks of letters written by her lover, Gerald O'Donovan.  He was terminally ill and would die just over one year later.  Rose scrambled through the ruins searching for remnants, a quest that became something of an obsession for the rest of her life.  Digging through ruins for objects from a life once lived even found its way into her writing, something I recall from my reading of The World My Wilderness.  I also went back and read Macaulay's Miss Anstruther's Letters knowing what had happened and the short story became much more poignant and brought tears to my eyes.  The other heartbreaking image is of Elizabeth Bowen wandering the cavernous Bowen's Court in Ireland after the war, crying out 'Charles, Charles, Charles...'.  Elizabeth and Charles Ritchie, a Canadian diplomat, carried on an affair for over thirty years but their time spent together had long lapses in between and he did marry another woman while in the midst of his relationship with Elizabeth.

Judging by the pages of interesting events I scribbled while reading The Love-charm of Bombs I could go on for days but this is a book you simply must experience for yourself.  It is intelligent, well-written and one of the most fascinating history/ biography/English lessons you will ever pull from a bookshelf, all rolled into one.  Also, be prepared for the list of books you will be inspired to read, written by the authors portrayed here, such as Graham Greene's Ministry of Fear, Henry Green's Caught, Elizabeth Bowen's The Heat of the Day and Love's Civil War edited by Victoria Glendinning as well as Rose Macaulay's The World My Wilderness.


Special thanks to Bloomsbury Press for sending along a review copy.  The months and months of waiting for the North American release date were worth it but the anticipation almost killed me!           

22 comments:

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    1. This is my project for the weekend. If only I stop dillydallying and eating doughnuts and finish this work.

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    2. A magic wand would be just the thing sometimes, wouldn't it, Mary. And doughnuts are worse than crisps when it comes to 'just one more' so I don't blame you!

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  2. Sometimes I think I like books about books (or their authors) more than the books itself! I must get myself back into this one ... and I'm already searching for the Elizabeth Bowen letters in your sidebar!

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    1. Excellent! I know you are immersed in other readings and Paris and all that but the very minute you can set aside time for this...do it! Thank goodness I picked up the Elizabeth/Charles letters book last year when it was on a clearance rack for $5. It's the perfect follow-up and I am so not ready to leave this group of authors just yet. Have a super weekend, Audrey!

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  3. Well said Darlene - never were a book and a reader so well matched!

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    1. And I have you to thank for bringing it to my attention, Jane! Come to think of it - it's also down to a few of you who have steered me towards the works of Macaulay, Green and Greene that made the experience all the richer. If memory serves me correctly though I discovered Bowen all by myself so that's one for me!

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  4. My conflict here is that, on the one hand, I love books about London during the war. On the other, I have no interest in any of the people this book profiles! I'm still not sure which side of me will win out but I am so glad to hear you enjoyed it. Now I can only hope that this or at least Love's Civil War will spur you on to reading Charles Ritchie's wonderful diaries! As disinterested as I am in Bowen, I adore Ritchie though I'm sure it was awful to be in love with him. From everything I've read, she was much more invested in the relationship (even while her husband was alive) than Ritchie ever was.

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    1. Hmmm...well now that is a tough one. The book is definitely a much better read for knowing the authors but perhaps it could be the impetus for sparking an interest. Oh Claire, that relationship seemed so unhealthy at times...Elizabeth poured her heart and soul into passionate letters while Ritchie was trying to find the words to let her down gently. But then he would fall in love with her all over again! A bit toxic but some sort of pull persisted through the years. And I don't think Elizabeth's marriage to Alan was ever consummated...

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  5. I really must read this - it sounds absolutely fascinating.

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  6. You have so made me want to read this! Off to Amazon right now.

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    1. Harriet! I can't believe you haven't already! Well, you just wait by the door for your parcel to arrive and then make yourself a drink for the patio. I will eat my copy if you don't find this book a page-turning event.

      There were two nights spent reading this book while a rain fell and I can't tell you how perfect an atmosphere that was. Silly but so true.

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  7. This sounds like a must-read. Off to add it to the wish list ...

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    1. Just the thing for when the nights begin to draw in, Karen!

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  8. Wonderful review, Darlene, so beautifully enthusiastic! I have been put off by the appalling title, but now sufficiently eager to put it on Amazon wishlist and hope somebody gets it for my birthday.

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    1. Ooh, the Love-charm bit is actually part of a quote but for the life of me now I can't put my finger on it. It's in the book. The next time you pass a bookshop steal a peak at a page or two. If you don't want to find a chair and keep going I would be very surprised...or eat a hat, or something like that. And 'hello' by the way!

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  9. Well you've sold it to me! I'm just reading The Prov Lady in Wartime so this books fits my reading mood right now. Great review.

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    1. You get yourself to a library or place an order and quick! You will be looking for excuses to head off to bed early with this tucked under your arm - prepare to be sucked in, Nicola.

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  10. I knew there was a book I meant to read this summer! I have a week before school starts. Better get started tonight! SUCH an enthusiastic review, Darlene!

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    1. I will be totally surprised if this isn't one of those books you grab, read the first line, and then find yourself completely immersed an hour later. It's not just good - it's excellent! And where has the summer gone, Rachel? Back to school so soon!

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  11. you have a great book. I will visit it often

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