The Heat of the Day

by Elizabeth Bowen

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

She told him about her Mount Morris solitary suppers, in the middle of the library, the rim of the tray just not touching the base of the lamp . . . the fire behind her back softly falling in on its own ash—no it had not been possible to feel lonely among those feeling things.

Stella is telling her mysterious and suspected spy lover, Harrison, about dining at her ancestral house in Ireland, far away from wartime London with all of its tension, bustle, and sights and smells of smoke and destruction. Bowen's delicate prose about details of the library and the fire "softly falling in on its own ash" perfectly conjures quiet and peaceful contentment so different from their nights of fear and drama in London. In Ireland, the sight of light streaming from the windows of her house was an ordinary pleasure heightened by the impossibility of seeing such a sight back across the Irish sea in World War II London.

Out of mists of morning charred by the smoke from ruins each day rose to a height of unmisty glitter; between the last of sunset and first note of the siren the darkening glassy tenseness of evening was drawn fine. From the moment of waking you tasted the sweet autumn not less because of an acridity on the tongue and nostrils; and as the singed dust settled and smoke diluted you felt more and more called upon to observe daytime as a pure and curious holiday from fear.

Bowen's powerful and evocative prose is visual, poetic, and descriptive of the internal experience of her characters. Some readers find it heavy going after a while, while others learn to savor her talents as a prose stylist.

All things done alone came to be no more than a simulacra of behaviour: they waited to live again till they were together . . . Every love has a poetic relevance of its own . . .

Here, Bowen's prose on the inner experience of romance and love rings true, as anyone who has had the experience will probably agree. Bowen's philosophical, intricate, and frequently poetic prose is not for everyone, as its careful craftsmanship without the backing drive of major plot developments can become laborious for some readers. For others, it is the main reward of reading The Heat of the Day. Out of the chaos of bombed out buildings, sirens, and characters walking by torchlight also comes the possibility and excitement of dramatic new experiences, romance, and potentially dangerous adventure and intrigue that keeps the novel from ever being dreary or depressing. Far from it. Her evocative descriptions of whistling bombs, the shock of impact, and bottles dancing on glass provide a colorful setting for equally dramatic psychological drama in characters whose lives intersect without their fully knowing each other's real identities.

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