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Sunday, February 07, 2016

The House in Paris (1935) by Elizabeth Bowen

Book Review
The House in Paris (1935)
by Elizabeth Bowen

   Any author who placed more than 5 titles on the 2006 1001 Books to Read Before You Die list is practically guaranteed to lose 50% or more of those titles on the 2008 list.  Elizabeth Bowen is no exception, losing three of her six entries on the 2006 edition.  The House in Paris is one of the lost titles.   All of Bowen's works combine modernist styles (use of the "free indirect" narrator, moving backwards and forwards in time out of sequence) but The House in Paris is the most modernist, with the action taking place within a single day and the use of lengthy imagined scenes (imagined by one of the characters) taking place out of the time sequence of the novel, as a flash back.

  Like much of her work, The House in Paris touches on issues of class and religion without being about those things.  Rather, The House in Paris is about a young boy, Leopold, learning about the tangled circumstances around his birth.  In the fine modernist tradition, none of this is spelled out for the reader.  You have to either work or pay close attention to really zero in on the story before the third act ties it all together.  Before then you might find yourself asking which character is which.  That is frequently the case with books that embrace early 20th century modernist technique, a disorientation, if you will, from the standard feelings obtained from reading a well written novel.

  Does anyone read Elizabeth Bowen these days?  Maybe in England.  The last American edition of The House in Paris was published in 1976.  I'd never heard of her before the 1001 Books project, now I would rank her as a middle of the table British (Anglo-Irish) author from the early-mid 20th century.  I think though, that three books is adequate to represent her proper status.

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