The Death of the Heart is perhaps Elizabeth Bowen's best-known book. As she deftly and delicately exposes the cruelty that lurks behind the polished surfaces of conventional society, Bowen reveals herself as a masterful novelist who combines a sense of humor with a devastating gift for divining human motivations.
In this piercing story of innocence betrayed set in the '30s, the orphaned Portia is stranded in the sophisticated and politely treacherous world of her wealthy half-brother's home in London. There she encounters the attractive, carefree cad Eddie. To him, Portia is at once child and woman, and he fears her gushing love. To her, Eddie is the only reaason to be alive. But when Eddie follows Portia to a sea-side resort, the flash of a cigarette lighter in a darkened cinema illuminates a stunning romantic betrayal - and sets in motion one of the most moving and desperate flights of the heart in modern literature.
©1938 Elizabeth Bowen (P)2009 Audible, Inc.
"A witty, lucid, and beautiful psychological novel.... By far her best book." (The New Yorker)
I've given this audiobook high marks, when I have doubts I would've been able to get through the print version. At first, I wasn't sure about Kellgren's rather plummy accent, until I realized that she was capable of down-shifting to servants, etc. as necessary. As a matter of fact, the housekeeper Matchett was probably my favorite "voice" of all of them.
As far as plot goes, although Thomas and Anna are her brother and sister-in-law it's hard not to think of them more as estranged father and (unwilling) stepmother as they're significantly older than Portia. The girl bonds immediately with Matchett, who tries to head off the impending trainwreck regarding Eddie-the-cad, but just doesn't have the authority that Anna might (had she chosen to do so). I must confess that by the end I was thinking "Get a shrink!" as a reaction to Portia's angst, then realizing she's only sixteen, and had never really fit in anywhere, even when her parents were alive.
Recommended, though the story did seem bogged down on occasion.
Elderly (1932), retired university professor, degrees in engineering and economics.
Growing up is tough! It is especially tough for, Portia, an unwanted, sixteen year old orphan growing up in England in the years between two world wars. After the death of her mother, who was not married to her father, she is shipped off to live with her half-brother, Thomas, the legitimate son of her father, and his reluctant wife, Anna and the most stable person in her life, Matchett, her dead mother’s governess and caregiver. Portia is painfully alone, personally impoverished, and socially innocent when a young man from her brother’s office comes for dinner. Eddie is 23, handsome, lazy, unambitious, in debit to his friends and family and utterly charming to a 16 year-old innocent.
Portia is sent to a widowed aunt and her daughter, Daphne, who live in a sea coast town and lease rooms to summer tourists. Portia is scheduled to stay for two weeks while Tom and Anna vacation abroad. This is a repeating pattern in her life. She is not wanted.
When Eddie comes to the seashore house to see Portia and gives her a little affection, she falls “gushingly” in love. Eddie backpedals fast and cruelly. Portia sees him holding hands with the older, more sophisticated Daphne and she is crushed.
The emotions are written with sensitivity and empathy that is drawn from the author’s own experiences. Bowen was an award winning British novelist who roamed Europe and the world in the the mid-years of the 20th century. She engaged in a thirty year love affair with a Canadian diplomat while she and her lover were both married to other people. She lived an emotional life. It is a universal story told by an accomplished writer with years of experience. It is a good listen.
Soaps are not supposed to be great writing, but this one written pre-TV is. It is very well read and one can almost see the cast.
I had this book on my TBR shelf for nearly 2 years. I couldn't part with it without reading it, but I never claimed it for a weekend jaunt. Instead, I decided to listen to it on audio. It was amazing!!!! The writing is fantastically detailed and the narrator brought the characters to life. I appreciated each perfect sentence uttered iin a British accent.
My heart broke over and over for Portia. Such a "sweet kid" as she was affectionately and derisively known by others. She was doing her best to make her way in an unfamiliar world, hoping for a semblance of a family. Instead, she too soon learns the reality of the falesness of adults and the limits of love.
Once again I'm baffled at the high rating for this book. Yes, there is flowery, descriptive prose, written somewhat in the style of Jane Eyre but the prose is often far exalted and doesn't fit with what the character could possibly be capable of thinking. They want us to believe the protagonist is a 16 year old girl yet have her mind supposedly thinking like that of an aged philosopher. Two other main characters are supposedly without much thought of others yet have lofty philosophical thoughts?
I would most liken this book to Virginia Wolf - if you like reading about dysfunction, and I mean real dysfunction, without any expectation of it turning into a happy or perhaps even just a satisfactory outcome, this would be a book for you. It goes no where and ends no where and no one is the better off for it.
However, if you want to feel that your time has been well spent and you learned something - turn away. I forced myself through the drivel as I anticipated the story would go somewhere. The characters would learn, grow and move forward, perhaps for the better. Not with this book. It's a very slow, agonizing death of the heart with absolutely NO ENDING.
A guileless teenage girl with an unorthodox upbringing became a ward of her aloof half brother and his supercilious wife of the London elite where her authentic observation and affection clashes against the counterfeit façade of the high society. Slow moving and uneventful plot, with masterfully developed yet conflicted characters, culminated to an intriguing climax and ending.
I've tried reading various Bowen novels over the years and was never able to get into them. I found the prose a little off-putting. Listening to Katherine Kellgren read Bowen's sentences opened up the work to me in a new way. Bowen's epigrammatic wit comes through beautifully, and all of the characters spring to life. The middle section of the novel, in which the young heroine is sent to a seaside resort, is especially entertaining. Kellgren brings each of the many characters to life with voices and intonations that are varied and specific. It's a brilliant performance.
I'm not big on "plot" but the story did take a little while to gel. A MINOR quibble about a beautiful, wise, and moving novel.
I most enjoy reading spiritual books to nourish my soul; psychology books to enhance my profession; & psych thrillers for fun escapism.
I read the first few chapters then returned it to Audible, finding it too dreary and unsettling. After a couple of weeks I decided to give the book another chance. There was something about it that kept drawing me to it. I believe it was because, understanding that it is a study on the loss of innocence (something that occurs at some point in most of our lives), I wanted to gain a deeper understanding. The book accomplished this with beautifully exquisite prose, with carefully drawn out, richly complex characters, and an underlying sense of suspense.
I believe, though, that this book is not for every reader. If you are someone who enjoys subtly nuanced books and has the patience to linger on beautiful prose while seemingly not much is happening (even though in actuality much is), then this book is for you. It is also worth noting that it is on Time Magazine's list of the top 100 modern novels (dating from the first part of the 1900s to present day).
The narration was wonderful. Katherine Kelllgren's smooth, fluid voice was able to capture the book's atmosphere and its very different characters. Her voice made me forget everything around me, as she lulled me into that house, that story set in London of the 1930s.
The only thing that was disconcerting for me was the book's ending, over which I am still pondering. Even though I have completed "Death of a Heart," it continues to linger about in my world of today, where the book remains quite relevant. I am so glad that I gave Elizabeth Bowen's book a second chance.
When a book has a lot of narration, especially interior, character, narration, the performer's voice is so important. As a book written in another era, this one has more narration than dialog and I don't think Kellgren was a 5 star narrator. That said, I think this would be an easier book to listen to than to read.
I listened to the ending three times. The first time I was dissatisfied. So, I listened again because I thought I might have missed something. I listened a third time and decided that the ending was okay. But it left a lot unfinished, and while the author may have intended to leave the book like that, as a reader, I prefer the loose ends tied up and I like to have some idea of how the characters move on after all of the complications brought up in the plot lines.
For an upper class novel about British families and their ways of living her voice was rough. Her imitation of the main character, a sixteen year old girl, was forced and not realistic and made the book less enjoyable than with a better performer.
Bowen's excellent writing kept me listening to the book. She has an exquisite way of setting a scene and of easing characters into conflict. As a reader, I had no idea how the plot lines would merge and who would come out on top until the very end.
This is an excellent book for someone who loves a well-written story from another era and can handle ambiguities that are never resolved. I will read more of her books as they become available.
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