The Death Of The Heart, Paperback Book
4 out of 5 (1 rating)

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'One of the last century's greatest woman writers' GuardianWhen sixteen-year-old Portia is orphaned she is plunged into the sophisticated and politely treacherous world of her wealthy half-brother's home.

There she encounters the attractive cad Eddie. To him, Portia is at once child and woman, and he fears her gushing love.

To her, Eddie is the only reason to be alive. But when Eddie follows Portia to a sea-side resort, the flash of a cigarette lighter in a darkened cinema illuminates a stunning romantic betrayal - and sets in motion one of the most moving and desperate flights of the heart in modern literature.

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What brought me to this book was its mention in the Guardian's recent series on 'best novels', this being in the section on 'love'.It's certainly not romantic and the better for it for my taste.Briefly: Portia, a recently orphaned sixteen-year-old, has been dutifully asked to stay 'for just for a year' by her much older half-brother and his wife in their upper middle-class household in central London. The wife, Anna, has a social life largely revolving around several male acquaintances and it is one of these, Eddie, a fly-by-night flippant character that takes Portia on, as it were, almost like a game.As readers we know, unlike Portia, that it will all end in tears. This isn't really what's important or what's interesting. What sustains the novel is the gradual paring away of the adult characters to show their essentially deadened hearts, something which the author does mainly via their conversations and not by their actions - showing, not telling.The middle section, when Portia stays for a fortnight in a south coast resort with a very lower middle-class family, is good social comedy and a necessary contrast to the earlier chapters.I did at first find this 1938 novel anachronistic in some ways. There are little French words and phrases dotted about in italics, and there's the presence of parlourmaids and a loyal retainer-type housekeeper in the Regents Park house but the quality of the writing and Elizabeth Bowen's sensibility made me discard any prejudices.I'm now starting a second 'recommended' book of hers.

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