9 February 2015

Mysterious Kôr by Elizabeth Bowen

Elizabeth Bowen would have honed her skills of observation during the time she spent working for the Ministry of Information and as an air-raid warden during WWII.  Coupled with her exceptional writing abilities, Bowen is a stand-out when it comes to placing readers in the middle of London during the Blitz.  And as evidence in the case of show versus tell when it comes to writing, there is no need for Bowen to explain why the park in this story is gateless.

Mysterious Kôr is, on the surface, a story about a young soldier, Arthur, spending a night of leave with his head-strong girlfriend, Pepita.  Emerging from the Underground on a cold moon-filled night the couple wander into a park.  Without a quiet place to be alone, Pepita recites a poem about '..a completely forsaken city, as high as the cliffs and as white as bones, with no history...'.  The couple debate whether such a place ever existed; Pepita's view is that if Mysterious Kôr can exist there is hope for what remains of London once the bombing has stopped.

Meanwhile, Pepita's flatmate waits for the couple in a sparse flat which was once a Victorian drawing room, now divided into three rooms.  Callie pays the bulk of the rent therefore giving her the lone bedroom but a prim nature would never allow her to turn it over to the couple...
'She had turned open Arthur's bed, the living-room divan, in the neat and inviting way she had learnt at home - then, with a modest impulse, replaced the cover.  She had, as Pepita foresaw, been wearing her cretonne house-coat, the nearest thing to a hostess gown that she had; she had already brushed her hair for the night, rebraided it, bound the braids in a coronet round her head.'
Callie is overly keen but this is down to the anticipation and anxiety of a male presence.  There is no hope of being alone for the romantic couple, even the moon and waving search lights are constantly present despite the blackout.  What happens next is a fascinating exploration of sociology involving these three young people; to say anymore would just ruin things for you.  Sorry.

Delving into such writings in an abstract manner or with a critical eye can be interesting and eye-opening but reading (this) made me wish like anything Elizabeth Bowen was still around to comment.  For me, I am quite happy to simply bask in her sublime prose.

Published in my latest acquisition from the Everyman's Pocket Classics series London Stories,  Mysterious Kôr can also be found in Wave Me Goodbye:  Stories of the Second World War edited by Anne Boston and online.


...while at work yesterday I put up a new slat wall display featuring short stories and gave it the title 'Shorts in Winter'.  This genre doesn't cross the circulation desk very often so it's my goal this week to draw customers' attention to many wonderful compilations including everything from Disney to erotica.  And when will they see these two collections together on one display ever again?


  1. I know I have Wave Me Goodbye somewhere, probably coated with a thick layer of plaster dust when it surfaces!

    1. I bet you've been covered with a thick layer of plaster dust too! That book appeared in my file box at work one day - it was a discard. Unbelievable!

  2. Elizabeth Bowen is one of my favorite writers. Though I haven't read any of her short stories. The most recent novel by her that I read was "To the North" which I loved. You have inspired me to pull down her volume of collected stories. Thank you!

    1. Hope you found the story and enjoyed it, Sunday. It's looking like quite the year for short stories so get in on the zeitgeist!

  3. Nice collection of mysteries.really i am regular visit your articles.you have wrote books for haunted places.