Hardcover: 372 pages
Publisher: A.A. Knopf; 1st edition (1949)
No Dust Jacket, Normal age discoloration
This book was my introduction to the writing of Elizabeth Bowen. Her work has been described as a combination of Jane Austen and Henry James, and I think that sums her writing up pretty accurately.
The Heat of the Day tells the story of Stella Rodney and the people she is connected with, by blood, by love, by fate, or all three. The story is set in London during World War II, with a friend telling her that Robert, her lover, is giving information to the Germans.
The novel describes Stella's experiences in the succeeding months as she visits with her son, home on leave from the war; goes with Robert to his family home in the South of England; and travels to the home in Ireland which her son has inherited from an uncle. Throughout all this Stella is processing the information she received, and eventually acts on it. The outcome is not so much the point of the story as is the description of what Stella feels and remembers about her experiences, in the present and in the past.
Bowen's language is elegant and poetic. Her descriptions of physical events, in nature or in the world of man-made objects, endow these events and objects with a life we know is there yet never notice. Her penetrating observation of the effect of physical objects and events manifests itself in another way as her awareness of the motives and causes of human behavior, the subatomic flickers that speak volumes in human interactions. Each of the characters the reader encounters is developed with astonishing subtlety, complexity and depth. The women and the men alike emerge as full human beings.
In The Heat of the Day, as in many of her other novels, the reader becomes aware of the subtle forces in operation in the most commonplace of human experiences.