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some great comedy and lovely writing, but main plot doesn't convince
on 8 October 2015
There are some marvellously funny set pieces in this story of wartime London. Chapter 14, where a dysfunctional family debate whether to accept an offer for their house, is so funny it is worth a read just for itself. However, as a whole the book doesn’t cohere and has put to rest the mild interest I’ve had in Elizabeth Bowen since I read ‘The death of the heart’ in my teens. Although there is some lovely writing throughout, much of the dialogue consists of oblique, stagey speeches, the narration is stiffly overworked, and the main plot (an espionage love triangle) doesn’t convince. Sarah Waters, who didn’t live through these times, has done a brilliantly better job of evoking them than Bowen, who did. For my money, the advance in the novelist’s craft between Bowen’s ‘The heat of the day’, published in 1949, and Waters’ ‘The night watch’, published in 2006, is immense.