It took Elizabeth Bowen a long time, until her last two books, to try her hand at a full blown comic novel and boy does she do it well. (The inept introduction makes the extraordinary claim that in this novel Bowen abandons comedy.) Eva Trout, an orphaned heiress, cannot find her feet in the world. The child Eva buys is a deaf mute which offers Bowen exuberant opportunity to explore the world of alternative healing. Bowen is confronting modernity with a razor sharp eye for satiric detail, but without the wistful sentimentalised nostalgia of Brideshead Revisited, and a hair-triggered sensibility alert to both the beauty and absurdity of the worlds in which Eva finds herself. Shes as tenderly affectionate as she is scathingly mocking and it was this subtle and difficult tightrope act that helped make this novel so loveable, that and its high tide imaginative vitality, awesomely impressive for a seventy year old woman.
The way the story is structured seems uneven - the first part of the book has 12 chapters, most of them short, and the second part just has 4, including a final chapter running to over 60 pages. Eva is a spoiled child formed by parental neglect, and also something of a fantasist, and at the start of the book we find her temporarily lodged with her favourite teacher Iseult and her husband Eric in Worcestershire, with the agreement of Constantine, her guardian who was also her father's former partner. Eva's mother died in a plane crash when she was an infant, and her rich father, though indulgent, has not spent enough time with her, farming her out to some eccentric schools, the first of which is a pet project of Constantine, who owns a decaying castle where he has installed a friend as a head teacher. Iseult, now estranged from Eric, has acquired his revolver, and deposited it among Eva's belongings at her London hotel while she is with France with Jeremy, and like Chekhov's gun, this inevitably forms part of the ending, which may surprise some readers (hide spoiler)
But for the first time I was somewhat disappointed when I chose another, at random, to read (this tactic had been generally foolproof before, see).
You could say Eva Trout deals with the enforced silence of women, which sets about a breakdown in communication in the larger social world. The novel constantly hints at fatal breakdowns in communication and in Jeremy, the mute child, finds its full expression.
Maybe Im being a little harsh here, but I was left thinking that Eva Trout is a revolting novel and it would be a good thing if no one ever read it except students specializing in revolting novels. THE BETTER FOR BEING HAD OUT Elizabeth Bowen has a fabulous ornate way with the English language she never calls a spade a spade, no, in the land of Bowen a spade would be an occasionally essential device of edged arboreal application. I dont think anythings the better for being had out. What gradually becomes revolting is that no one in this book ever behaves or talks like a normal person. But as the comedy began to disintegrate, as the laughter curdled in the epiglottis Eva Trout - the character and the book - just seemed vicious and the sparkly box of bonbons contained nothing but chocolate covered tarantulas. Eva acquires a child half way through the book. To be so completely bouleversee made me half angry THE KIND OF SENTENCE YOU HAVE TO BE PREPARED FOR (Henry is telling Eva about his university experiences). (You like that kind of stuff? On p 266 we read this : Seriously, Eva, I hate to say so but really you are quite dotty; youre raving dotty. Let me adapt that one slightly : Seriously, Elizabeth Bowen, I hate to say so but really you are quite dotty; youre raving dotty.
Fuck, I was gonna write "understanding" but that's not really it. (For one thing, I don't.) I was hooked on Elizabeth Bowen from the start because she puts into words the expressions I only get in visuals (and sometimes I gotta try them on myself to see what they feel like. Sinister shadows, meanings in protracted sighs, shit that goes over your head but you can still sense it was probably pretty fucking bitchy (Mean Girls the film is factual events). Bowen is probably not an author for those who don't watch other people for cues. Back in the day, when I checked out all Bowen's works from the public library, they ALL had "comedy of manners" on the back cover. I loved Bowen's writing because it was those clues that I looked for in life, in words and unspoken words. I'm interested in learning how the hell you cultivate some way of understanding what the hell people are talking about, anyway. Joanna Newsom sang "And I have read the write book to interpret your look". Eva Trout was not my favorite (that is The Death of the Heart, without reservations). I like it, I remember thinking different times "Man, Bowen is a genius". I want to feel more like not being the fish (trout!) out of water more often. I'm struggling to remember a book I read nearly ten years ago, and I'm struggling to express feelings I didn't entirely understand the first time around. I don't think I was depressed to leave Eva. That's probably why I remember this as a four star reading experience. So I'm looking on amazon (product placement alert!) and I find this cd by artist Eva Trout.
Eva, one saw straight ahead, through the windscreen.I had to read that last sentence three times before it made sense. I have read Bowen before, and I didn't remember that her prose was this unusual. The prose here creates tension in the reader in a different way than that of other authors I've read. As the novel progresses, the prose becomes a bit more even and relaxed, and we see that Eva has also. This is Bowen's last novel.
This is a psychological romance in the sense that it shows how Eva managed to arrive in her adulthood even if she has to pay a high price for it.
Bowen's Eva Trout is a dynamic story of a complicated young woman in late 1950's and 1960's England. I am very new to Bowen, but I believe Eva Trout was her last novel.