This novel is set against the backdrop of the very tail end of the London Blitz. Stella Rodney, like most women with husbands in the war, has been displaced to a smaller apartment. Nature had kindly given her one white dash, lock or wing in otherwise tawny hair She is in love with Robert Kelway, a man with a limp from a war wound at Dunkirk. Robert has a nebulous job with the war effort that has him gone for days at a time. This was a face with a gate behind it--a face that, in this photographic half-light, looked indoor and weathered at the same time; a face, if not without meaning, totally and forbiddingly without mood. Harrison is willing to make a deal if Stella will leave Robert and become his girlfriend. She is unconvinced of Roberts guilt, but at the same time she has doubts about his loyalty to his country. The descriptions of the terrain of London and the surrounding areas certainly had me thinking of how noirish this book would look on film. Stella is dramatic, elegant, and trapped in circumstances that feels like only something tragic can free her from the bonds of two men. Harrison and Stella are both characters who could have stepped out of any Raymond Chandler or Dashiell Hammett novel. Louie Lewis, the opposite of Stella, in so many ways. She sleeps with men to feel closer to her husband who is away fighting in the war. At other times her sentences were almost languid like Stellas droopy eyelids.
"They were the creatures of history, whose coming together was of a nature possible in no other day - the day was inherent in the nature." This novel reads like a riddle. And as a reader, I follow the changing rules of the fiction and the history of the time: and I find myself smiling at the cunning of the locked-away "mad" people, at the naive "trust" of spies, at the unlikely allegiance one feels with the random "minor" characters who walk London's streets with just the same amount of life and passion as the major players of the show. A story dominated by private beliefs and worries, it nonetheless uses the impressive backdrop of world war news to structure the plot and put the characters' issues into perspective: "The headlines got that over for you in half a second, deciding for you every event's importance by the size of the print." Occasionally, the characters find themselves to be newsworthy - thus seeing themselves in touch with the bigger picture of which they are part, and to which they wear matching behaviours and attitudes, whether they like it or not.
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 the daytime as a pure and curious holiday from fear." Ostensibly The Heat of the Day is a spy novel, a wartime noir. In the first chapter Stella, the heroine, is told by a shady individual called Harrison that her lover, Robert, is selling secrets to the enemy. The habitat of love in which Stella has lived comes to resemble the broken exposed bombed buildings littering Londons landscape. When, later, Stella visits Roberts home she is horrified by the suffocating deceit of decorum she encounters in his mother and sister, a decorum that has already humiliated and unmanned Roberts father. The theme of deceit is taken up by another character, the orphaned and disingenuous Louie who is betraying her absent enlisted husband with a succession of casual affairs with men. Bowen evokes a landscape in which homes can vanish overnight. Much of the novel takes place in homes. We have Stellas flat which is borrowed, we have Roberts familys home which is for sale. Bowens sentences in this novel are as rutted and rubbled as Londons wartime streets.
I had the pleasure in 2015 to read The Death of the Heart and was moved by the experience of young sixteen year old Portia that was cruelly played by some minor villains. That was one of my top ten reads of that year and rated a very high 4.5 stars.
This is a brittle, opaque story of a strange kind of love triangle' set in the dark glamour of war-time London.
Published in 1948, this is famous as Elizabeth Bowens war novel. As such, this is truly representative of London in wartime; unsettled, damaged, dangerous. While the main character, Stella, is embroiled in an affair with Robert, a young woman, Louie, also feels suddenly single, with her husband fighting abroad. There is humour, in Roberts bizarre family and the widow of Cousin Francis, who is visited by Roderick.
At my first reading, I was greatly influenced by the quotation from The Atlantic Monthly printed prominently on the gorgeous front cover: "Imagine a Graham Greene thriller projected through the sensibility of Virginia Woolf." I found myself concentrating on the first part of this comparison, largely due to the apparent similarity of subject-matter, But the thriller aspect of Bowen's novel simply does not work: the many episodes featuring other characters dilute the tension, and the climax is more psychological than physical. This time, inspired by a new respect for Bowen gained from reading the Feigel, I came to the novel with the assumption that Bowen knew exactly what she was doing; if she did not succeed in writing a Graham Greene thriller, it was simply because she had no intention of doing so. They were not alone, nor had they been from the start, from the start of love, writes Bowen when Stella and Robert sit down to a late supper; their time sat in the third place at their table. Near the end of the novel, Stella thinks back on their love, in a passage that makes me think of Woolf or the ending of James Joyce's story "The Dead," and that is the very essence of totality: She had trodden every inch of the country with him, not perhaps least when she was alone.
We first meet a mysterious character, Harrison, and a fun-loving woman named Louie. From there, the book delves primarily into the lives of Stella; her son, Roderick; Robert; and Louie, but Harrison's past remains a mystery. If the book got into the hands of a really good editor, I'm sure I would have enjoyed it much more.