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Pickle Me This

May 30, 2011

Mini Review: The Last September by Elizabeth Bowen

I’ve almost made it through the Bs, and it’s amazing how much I’ve loved these books. Puts me in the right too for having kept these books around even though I wasn’t bothering to read them– there was a reason after all.  The Last September is the third book I’ve read by Elizabeth Bowen– the first was The House in Paris and the second was The Heat of the Day which I found awfully strange and difficult. Unsurprisingly, as it was only her second novel, The Last September is more accessible than the others, more straightforward, but this is also a very mature book for a second novel by a writer who was only thirty when she wrote it.

The Last September takes place in rural Ireland in 1920 during the Irish War of Independence. The setting is wholly domestic, and minor dramas take place between various characters who are so compelling that all of this would be absolutely enough, but for the war taking place in the background. The war is still distant enough that characters don’t take it seriously, or feel that it has anything to do with them. English soldiers stationed nearby are seen as useful for even numbers dances, and the Irish girls fall in love with men, much to their families’ consternation. There are random-seeming bursts of violence, surprising knowledge that familiar neighbours are involved in the cause of independence, but largely, life goes on with its tennis games, afternoon teas, dances, and walks in the woods steeped in import.

It is not that Bowen plays with the juxtaposition, but rather that the background informs the foreground and vice versa. The connections are subtle (as is so much in this novel of manners) and it’s just that the characters don’t notice them, and the reader unversed in Irish history mightn’t either. Which will only make the story’s ending all the more shocking, and cast the entire novel in a whole new light.

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