Customer Reviews


12 Reviews
5 star:
 (3)
4 star:
 (5)
3 star:
 (1)
2 star:
 (3)
1 star:    (0)
 
 
 
 
 
Average Customer Review
Share your thoughts with other customers
Create your own review
 
 

The most helpful favourable review
The most helpful critical review


17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Innocence and Experience
Following the death of her parents, the sixteen-year-old Portia Quayne comes to live with her older half-brother Thomas and his wife Anna. Although they are brother and sister, Thomas and Portia have had very different lives. He, in his late thirties, is a wealthy advertising executive, who has also inherited money from his mother and lives in one of the elegant Regency...
Published on 13 July 2009 by J C E Hitchcock

versus
25 of 27 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Not My Cup of Tea at All
I have to admit that I read this critically acclaimed novel under some duress -- it was picked for my book group on the basis that it is one of our member's writing professor's favorite book. (It's also on the Modern Library and Time Magazine lists of Top 100 Novels, for whatever that's worth.) Unfortunately, I tend to like books with plots, and this is certainly not that...
Published on 23 Jan 2009 by A. Ross


‹ Previous | 1 2 | Next ›
Most Helpful First | Newest First

17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Innocence and Experience, 13 July 2009
By 
J C E Hitchcock (Tunbridge Wells, Kent, United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: The Death Of The Heart (Vintage Classics) (Paperback)
Following the death of her parents, the sixteen-year-old Portia Quayne comes to live with her older half-brother Thomas and his wife Anna. Although they are brother and sister, Thomas and Portia have had very different lives. He, in his late thirties, is a wealthy advertising executive, who has also inherited money from his mother and lives in one of the elegant Regency terraces surrounding Regent's Park. She is the family's guilty secret, the daughter of Thomas's father by his second wife. The elder Mr Quayne, a seemingly respectable middle-aged businessman, was divorced by his first wife after getting his mistress, Portia's mother, pregnant. As a result he was banished from polite society in England, and Portia has spent her entire childhood living in various seedy hotels on the Continent.

The book is divided into three sections, entitled "The World", "The Flesh" and "The Devil". The first and last sections are set in London, the middle one in the Kentish seaside town of Seale-on-Sea, where Portia goes to stay with Anna's old governess, Mrs Heccomb, while Thomas and Anna are abroad. (Seale, a fictitious town probably based on Hythe near Folkestone, also features in a later Elizabeth Bowen novel, "The Heat of the Day").

Portia is a quiet, naive and unworldly girl, who finds it difficult to fit into the fashionable world of her brother and sister-in-law. Thomas is a rather dull individual whose main preoccupation is making money, Anna a glamorous and sophisticated, if cold and conventional, society hostess, with a number of suspiciously close male friends,. Neither of them welcome having Portia staying with them, and take her in reluctantly out of a sense of duty. Anna in particular resents Portia, whose innocence is at odds with her own worldliness. Portia also seems out of place in Seale; although Mrs Heccomb treats her kindly, she cannot fit in with Mrs Heccomb's children Dickie and Daphne and their "fast" set of fun-loving friends.

Portia has fallen in love with Eddie, a rather useless young man who is one of Anna's protégés (and possibly one of her former lovers, although Bowen is never explicit on this point). After being sent down from Oxford, Eddie has tried becoming a writer, abandoning that career after his first, satirical, novel upset too many people, and currently works in Thomas's agency, where Anna has found him a position, despite his having neither a liking nor an aptitude for the advertising business. The bored, cynical Eddie and the innocent young Portia are, of course, quite unsuited to one another, but she is too besotted with Eddie to notice his bad points. Only when she invites him to Seale for the weekend and he spends most of his time flirting with Daphne Heccomb does she realise that he might not be the man of her dreams. Portia has been confiding her intimate thoughts to her diary; when she discovers that Anna has been invading her privacy by reading this, she takes a drastic step.

Elizabeth Bowen demonstrates in this book her gift for descriptive writing; I was particularly struck by the opening chapter, in which she conjures up a vision of Regent's Park on a frosty January evening. Her main concerns, however, were characterisation and in social and psychological analysis. This is not a book which will appeal to those who like their fiction be packed with physical action; the most interesting action is that which takes place in the minds of her characters, especially Portia. The "death" of the title is a metaphorical one, as Portia's innocent idealism is shattered by the cynicism and heartlessness of Anna, Eddie and their set. "The Death of the Heart" is a sensitive, finely-written novel which justifies its owner's reputation as one of the leading British novelists of the twentieth century.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars 'the saddest story ever told', 18 Dec 2011
This review is from: The Death Of The Heart (Vintage Classics) (Paperback)
Elizabeth Bowen has a reputation for being a 'writer's writer', Ian McEwan has acknowledged his debt to her work. 'In the Heat of the Day' may be better known than this book, but it bears the same stamp of Bowen's in-depth psychological insight and a fine ability to evoke time and place. Her world is often London during, before and after the world war two and no-one has evoked the city and its diurnal and seasonal moods better. Here is Regent's Park and the glamorous London that seems untouched by the war, in the late 40's or early 50's.

Set amongst the largely idle, weathy, upper class set of post-war London's elite, the story is a 'coming of age novel', in a broad sense. Other reviewers have neatly recapped the plot so my point is to emphasise the sensitivity of the writing and to praise the heart-wrenchingly vivid portrait of a young girl, on the verge of adulthood whose vulnerablity and open-heartedness is exploited and vilified by those adults who should be caring for her. There is no physical abuse, it is the careless cruelty of the adult who has forgotten or never knew the sufferings of childhood.

In this, novel here bears some ressemblence to James's 'What Maisie Knew', in its use of the child's perspective to point up and emphasise adult corruption and veniality. But Maisie had someone to look out for her, Portia the heroine, has no-one and the reader feels acutely anxious for her. The final chapters are heart-breaking, it's true, but worth reading in order to understanding the message of the book, which is this: the corruprion of innocence is the most deadly of crimes and can be comitted by people who are merely careless, thoughtlessly cruel. And the damage is irrevocable. Childhood, the novel tells us, is not a time for the faint-hearted and if you can survive the deeply perplexing and frightening transition from innocence to experience unscathed, then nothing else life can throw at you will ever hurt so much.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


25 of 27 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Not My Cup of Tea at All, 23 Jan 2009
By 
A. Ross (Washington, DC) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: The Death Of The Heart (Vintage Classics) (Paperback)
I have to admit that I read this critically acclaimed novel under some duress -- it was picked for my book group on the basis that it is one of our member's writing professor's favorite book. (It's also on the Modern Library and Time Magazine lists of Top 100 Novels, for whatever that's worth.) Unfortunately, I tend to like books with plots, and this is certainly not that -- it's more of a psychological portrait of a teenage girl as she undergoes the process of having her "innocence" utterly revoked by the social milieu she is thrust into.

Portia is a 16-year-old orphan sent to live with her half-brother and his cold and catty wife in their lovely Regency Park-fronting home in 1930s London. Having been raised in a succession of continental hotels (an experience Bowen herself had for about a decade, starting at age 12), she is wholly unprepared for the invisible and unspoken rules of the game operating in the upper-class English home she's entered. With her distant half-brother and cold sister-in-law, she struggles to locate some kind of human connection, and only manages to find it in unsuitable people such as an older head servant, or a dissolute young male "friend" of her sister-in-law (he's apparently based on the Welsh writer Goronwy Rees).

It is this latter relationship that inevitably leads to tears at the end, as her naive dreams are dashed by the self-absorption of everyone around her. It's all pretty bleak stuff, as there is not a single character in the book who lives in anything approaching happiness. It does have some appeal as a fictional ethnographic case study of a strange bygone (and peculiarly English) ecosystem, but it's hard not to wish for World War II to arrive and force these characters into doing something useful and thinking about something other than themselves.

Although it's not a book I can imagine recommending to many people, it is worth checking out if you're the kind of reader who likes to linger over every sentence, picking it up, turning it around, and examining it from every angle. The language is rich enough to warrant this kind of close reading -- even if it didn't generally strike a chord with me. It's also worth reading by anyone with an interest in the interwar era or in the manifestation of class in Britain at the time. Note: The novel was adapted as a miniseries for BBC television in 1985, however this version remains unavailable on DVD.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


21 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A superb, moving novel, 22 Nov 2002
This review is from: The Death Of The Heart (Vintage Classics) (Paperback)
Elizabeth Bowen could produce page-turners worthy of the best
commercial novelists, but she had a knack of making the most of
the apparently ordinary. This story of a young girl's courtship and the small betrayals which lead to the 'death of the heart' is totally engrossing and moving. It had me reading into the night with an unidentifiable sense of dread and it left me in tears.
A superb novel.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Masterpiece (just savour the prose), 26 May 2012
By 
Christopher H (Keilor, Australia) - See all my reviews
(TOP 1000 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: The Death Of The Heart (Vintage Classics) (Paperback)
I discovered this book through Amazon's "recommended for you" listings, and thoroughly agree with much said in these crits. What I would add is that in addition to Bowen's adept handling of the psychology of her characters (they are so plausible, so mentally rounded), is her descriptive abilities. She doesn't put down a spare, or lame, sentence.

Take this sentence when the youngsters are going for a walk by the beach: "There was a breakwater smell - a smell of sea-pickled planks, of slimy green boards being sucked by the tides." (p.174) The imagery is so precise, so tactile, bringing back to one not only seeing timbers like that at the sea, and how they are weathered by their settings, but, perhaps, bringing back youth when one bothered to notice such things.

As you read, Bowen picks and chooses her descriptive details according to who is present, and in order to suggest how they see the world. So Portia sees much with a teenage hunger for experience, whereas Anna looks with jaded eyes and only notices shiny expensive things, and so forth.

It's a straightforward novel, with a simple plot, but it is executed with psychological subtlety and literary complexity. (I have passed the novel around the family, and it has generated much discussion along these lines.)

A definite read for those who enjoy K.Mansfield, V.Woolf, R.Lehmann, D.Richardson, E.Taylor.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An excellent, breath-taking read!!, 28 Nov 1996
By A Customer
Although not of the same era, Elizabeth Bowen's The Death of the Heart brings to mind the work of Jane Austen. This literary masterpiece, written in the Modern Period (during or immediately after World War I), centers around an adolescent girl's "coming of age" in an era of many questions and precious few answers. The brilliance of this novel is the linking of the familiar novel format to a Virginia Woolf-like stream of conciousness style of writing. I've recommended this book to many a bibliophile and never have had it fail to make an impact on the reader.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great read, 23 Feb 2004
This review is from: The Death Of The Heart (Vintage Classics) (Paperback)
Having just moved to London, I loved how much the city infuses this moody jewel of a novel. It's definitely of its time, but anyone who has survived the depths and heights of adolescent love will appreciate the immaculate portrait drawn in this book.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


4.0 out of 5 stars good read, 12 July 2013
By 
p mcclure (surrey, england United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: The Death Of The Heart (Vintage Classics) (Paperback)
This was well reviewed in The Week magazine as a book on ageing and I really enjoyed it being an older person myself.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


4.0 out of 5 stars Death of childhood, welcome to reality!, 22 Jun 2013
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: The death of the heart
A book very much of its time (1938) not so much a story more of an exploration of peoples characters. Very well written, you can't feel much sympathy for the characters but it illustrates the pains of growing up into adulthood and the dying of childhood expectations at that age.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


3.0 out of 5 stars Moving, 7 Sep 2012
By 
Diane Walker (Lowestoft, Suffolk,) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Death Of The Heart (Vintage Classics) (Paperback)
"Habit is not mere subjection, it is a tender tie: when one remembers habit it seems to have been happiness." An appropriately bitter-sweet reflection from Elizabeth Bowen's moving story of Portia Quayne, whose sad fat it is to be rejected by everyone she is involved with.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


‹ Previous | 1 2 | Next ›
Most Helpful First | Newest First

This product

The Death Of The Heart (Vintage Classics)
The Death Of The Heart (Vintage Classics) by Elizabeth Bowen (Paperback - 14 May 1998)
£7.19
In stock
Add to basket Add to wishlist
Only search this product's reviews