Most helpful positive review
36 of 38 people found the following review helpful
A demanding read but very rewarding
on 31 May 2001
This book is regarded as Elizabeth Bowen's best work. It is exceptional for its multi-facted portrayal of childhood, coming of age and old age. It illustrates how each generation regards the basic facets of human identity: birth, love and death. Bowen's special ability is to convey her characters' emotions through external aspects: descriptions of places; the house in Paris, the cherry garden, Boulonge; and also weather conditions and nature.
Time is fractured in this novel: from the present we switch to the past and then back to the present. This timeframe can be exasperating and the story is revealed in a gradual way. Rather irritating is Bowen's dismissal of important events: e.g Max's death in relatively few words compared to the inordinate trangessions she makes when describing seemingly more trivial matters e.g. Karen's meeting with the girl in the yellow dress. But I guess most of life consists of gradual development of character as opposed to dramatic, life-shattering events.
This book has so many intriguing strands, memorable characters and beautiful images that it is a truly rewarding experience. Bowen has been compared to Henry James but I was most reminded of Ford Madox Ford's 'The Good Soldier'. Like Ford's book, Bowen's can be difficult but it is like viewing a picture up close - it s only when you have read the book, step back and see the author's entire canvass that the power of the work takes effect.