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3.6 out of 5 stars7
3.6 out of 5 stars
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36 of 38 people found the following review helpful
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.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
All hinges on Bowen's structure for this novel: a sad tangled story set in the past, with, positioned before and after as a framing device, future events showing the costs paid for those actions. - Be warned that this sophisticated book has to be read at least twice to grasp what is taking place, the motives at play, and the way truths are always being withheld.

Tellingly, we are lead into this troubled world by 11 year old Henrietta whose mother died some years before. Despite her loss, she is self-possessed, assertive and emotionally balanced; which is in contrast to everyone else we meet - Leopold, Naomi, Karen, Max, Mme Fisher, Mrs Michaelis - who lead stunted lives. Bowen builds up a world where maturing girls and young women must struggle to obtain their independence from mothers who are controlling: her underpinning themes are emotional manipulation, a search for love, the repression of sexuality, the pressure of social custom. Even the girls' suitors are being subtly steered by the presiding matriarchs.

The novel is cleverly crafted, moving along effortlessly without needing to force the Freudian ideas being debated in literary circles, and which visibly influence Bowen's story: so much is conveyed in Leopold's despairing thought "My mother, my mother, always my mother". Saddest of all is that no one in this world seems to have experienced deep emotions. People simply pair off - life partners are picked like items of furniture. Nor can the controlling mothers cope when raw emotions are revealed (Mrs Michaelis is rattled by her brother-in-law's grief; and doesn't wish to know about Karen's true love).

Of course, the great unspoken is sexual passion. Everyone skates around it, never daring to discuss it. Even when we get to look straight into the characters' thoughts, with the mental conversation between Karen and Ray, they painfully avoid confronting the matter of their passions. Do they lack them? They say they are happy, but are they? Behind all the misery that has taken place is Madame Fisher, who casts a decades-long embittered shadow from her sick bed: if she can't be happy, no one else is allowed to be either.

While it was necessary to clarify Bowen's plot, I did find Leopold's meeting with Mme Fisher a little contrived at points: would one speak like that to a 9 year old? Otherwise, a complex work carried off superbly well, with a marvellous feel for descriptive prose. And in so many ways it is a remarkable statement of its times, the mid 30s, when the anti-Semitism that ruins these relationships was about to utterly rupture this world in the form of Nazism.

(Thanks to Amazon for recommending the book!)
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20 of 23 people found the following review helpful
on 30 April 2010
Bowen is one of those writers in whose books I could happily spend the rest of my life; there is something incredibly luxurious about her work. I still can't decide whether or not The House in Paris is my favourite of hers, but that is not to its detriment.

The premise is simple enough: two children spend a day together in a house, unsurprisingly in Paris, and as they begin to interact Bowen begins to slowly unravel their reasons for being in the house.

Though the plot at first glance seems basic, Bowen fills her novel with so many larger ideas. Namely that of age and understanding; her portrayal of the two children in the novel appears stunning in it's honesty. Rather than going down the route of giving us two precocious children, via which she can explore a wealth of themes, she presents us with two children on the cusp of understanding the adult world to which they both belong, yet children who still find wonder in the trivial and are often inclined to get lost in their own imagination.

One of the things I particularly enjoyed about the novel was the constant struggle between the characters and their nationalities. The way in which Bowen unravels the idea of what it actually means to be English/French/Italian etc, and what happens when you take someone out of their 'home' is truly fascinating. The subtle interplay between place and self has perhaps never been so deftly handled as it is here, and Bowen's evocation of Paris and England are flawless.

There is a particularly exquisite moment in the novel in which Bowen discusses the act of conversing in a group and our sense of self in such a situation. It cannot be more than 3 or 4 lines long, but for such a short, simple passage so much is conveyed, and not one word is wasted. Bowen is a terrific writer, and a completely brilliant story teller, both of which The House in Paris serves as testament to.
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on 7 May 2013
A curious read. I found it hard going at first and then quite a compelling read. This was read at a book group and was a good choice - it was quite good at provoking discussion.
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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on 15 February 2011
Beautifully written with a fantastic atmosphere. She is a subtle writer and leaves much to the imagination. Previously had read her short stories which are also brilliant but this book and Eva Trout (her last book, I think) are unforgettable.
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on 19 October 2015
I enjoyed it
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0 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on 26 April 2014
The pages were brown and smelly and I needed to wash my hands after touching it. Now discarded with other rubbish.
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