Elizabeth Bowen, The House in Paris

I'm not, as a rule, a big fan of Elizabeth Bowen. But I have a friend whose opinion I respect who often talks about her, so that is one reason I persist in reading her novels: a few months ago, The Heat of the Day, a WW2 novel set in London, whose dialogues struck me, as Bowen's often do, as stilted and theatrical--unless they are utterly natural and simply out of my range.

But I've just finished The House in Paris, one I've been looking for for a while, which never seemed to be on the Bowen shelf in the library, and which I finally sought via its call number, and discovered, with tea-coloured pages, in a musty-smelling back section of the low-ceilinged, over-heated old stacks. I wanted to read it because of: 1) Paris; 2) the house. Houses are important for Bowen and often themselves as important as the characters in her books. I like houses too. This one seems to be close to the Luxembourg Garden, a high, narrow, dark old house, forbidding and foreboding. The story revolves around two children, strangers, and some mysterious grown-ups whose relationships are gradually elucidated. I have read that it was considered the most French, in style, of Bowen's books, though it doesn't seem particularly French to me, if I think of Colette and Duras and Sarraute and Beauvoir...

But it is psychologically subtle and finely written, or at least I found it so, and recommend it.

I turned down a page (many were dog-eared) so I could find a sentence again. It is from a scene between a mother and daughter. Of the over-devoted, controlling mother, the daughter, who is engaged to be married but has just returned from a rendez-vous with another manthinks: 'Dread of chaos filled the room... ."  And I thought, ah yes, the impulse to control comes from the dread of chaos.