Friday, February 17, 2017

The Death of the Heart - Elizabeth Bowen

The Death of the Heart
Title: The Death of the Heart
Author: Elizabeth Bowen
Publication Date: 1938
Pages: 418
Genre: Classic / Historical / Fiction
How I Found It: 100 Best Novels
Date Completed: 1/29/17

Summary: Thomas and Anna take in his half-sister Portia, much to Anna's dismay. They don't quite know what to do with the girl and the bulk of the novel has them heading off on vacation while she is shipped off to live with a former governess of Anna's.

What I Thought: I started off really well with this book. The opening chapters, which revolved mostly around Anna, were quite interesting to me. This idea of a half-sister-in-law, who also happens to be nearly illegitimate, coming to stay is a great plot line. Portia's presence has clearly upset Anna's regular routine. To me, the dynamic between these two women was the most interesting crux of the novel. It's a complex relationship and, while we start off thinking Anna is the heroine of the tale, Bowen turns the tables as the story goes on. 

Unfortunately, Anna and Thomas largely disappear from the story. We are taken away from their home and their narrative and left with Portia, who bounces around from place to place. Of course, this establishes her emotional state quite well, but, as a reader, I was put off. I invested in Anna and Thomas as characters and their home as the centerpiece of the novel. For whatever reason, I was playing this out as a theatre production in my head and when we completely left behind our set and several of our main characters, my interest in the story was shaken.

Portia is still a great character. Just as the other characters have trouble understanding her at times, so did I. She doesn't fit well into normal society because of her upbringing and it seems no one is ever quite sure what to do with her. It becomes clear that her heart is the one facing death, as she faces rejection after rejection. By the end of the novel, you simply feel terrible for her. 

Overall, I enjoyed this one, but I found the first half far more engaging than the second half. I would have liked to keep the dynamic between Anna, Thomas, and Portia front and center as that triangle held so much potential for me. This is right up my alley as far as historical era and setting, though, so I quite enjoyed those elements. 

Rating: ★★★☆☆
Will I Re-Read: Maybe

A Reduced Review: I loved the first half of this classic, but the departure of some of the main characters left me wanting more in the second half.

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