Sunday, October 7, 2007

The Last September by Elizabeth Bowen (thoughts)

I have waited far too long to discuss my first read for the Outmoded Authors challenge: Elizabeth Bowen's The Last September. This relatively domestic book is set in 1920s Anglo-Ireland, and the writing is quietly, unobtrusively beautiful. It follows one Anglo-Irish family, especially Lois. Lois is in her late teens or early twenties, and still trying to find herself. The various cast of characters that wander in and out of Lois' life cause her to examine her own values and goals.

The book's strength is its cast of memorable characters who all seemed to reflect my own hidden fears or desires. The other strength is that Bowen leaves something up to the reader. She's willing to hold back a little, requiring you to fill in a few of the blanks.

This book was a pleasure to read, rather like a contemporary Jane Austen (and I don't make that comparison lightly). I will definitely be hunting down more of Bowen's work, and I hope that they're all this good! I highly recommend me this to everyone who likes domestic fiction and good writing.

Favourite Passages

A thought that fifty years hence she might well, is she wished, be sitting here on the steps, with or without rheumatism-having penetrated thirty years deeper ahead into time that they could-gave her a feeling of mysteriousness and destination. And she was fitted for this by being twice as complex as their generation-for she must be: double as many people having gone to the making of her. (36)

He had seemed annoyed at her being young when he wasn't. She could not hope to explain that her youth seemed to her also rather theatrical and that she was only young in that way because grown-up people expected it. She had never refused a role. She could not forgo that intensification, that kindling of her personality at being consiered very happy and reckless even if she were not. She could not hope to assure him she was not enjoying anything he had missed, that she was now onconvinced and anxious but intended to be quite certain, by the time she was his age, that she had once been happy. (40)

Laurence achieved this escape by sitting always with a social alert expression between two groups; when one tried to claim him he could affect to be engaged by the other. (54)

Lois was forced to state that there
was a man in the Rutlands, a Gerland Lesworth, whom she had found affecting. She supposed there was no question as to his being intrigued; people seemed to notice. So Viola wrote back, she must hear all about him, should have heard before; her Lol was really the final Sphinx. She wanted to know, to see, to hear him, even to smell him-because all the nicest men did smell, didn't they, indefinitely but divinely. (69-70)

"Gerald is so matter-of-fact. Nothing could make him a tragedy." (91)

"Hugo, how
could you let her get so wet!"
"My dear, I am not an umbrella." (129)

The mill startled them all, staring light-eyed, ghoulishly, round a bend of the valley. Lois had to come hurrying up to explain how it frightened her. In fact, she wouldn't for worlds go into it but liked going as near as she dated. It was a fear she didn't wat to get over, a kind of deliciousness. (178)

Visitors took form gradually in his household, coming out of a haze of rumour, and seemed but lightly, pleasantly superimposed on the vital pattern till a departure tore great shreds from the season's texture. (200)

Impressed by the strangeness, by this pressure of emergency, Lois plaited her hair in two plaits instead of one and felt herself a different woman. (274)


Dorothy W. said...

I'm glad you liked this book! I'm hoping to read Bowen for the Outmoded Authors challenge too, and this is the one on my shelves. I bet I'll enjoy it.

Gentle Reader said...

I'm glad you liked this, too. I'll have to read it. I've read other Bowen, and especially liked The Death of the Heart--which I'm going to reread as one of my Outmoded Authors Challenge reads. She's one of my favorite writers, and I like that you compare her to Austen :)

Eva said...

Dorothy, I hope you enjoy it as well. :)

Gentle Reader, thanks for the suggestion! I'll put in on my TBR list. I think the Austen comparison is justified, which in my mind is highest honours. :D

Anonymous said...

I'm over halfway through it, but have mixed feelings.