Saturday, 6 September 2014

'The House in Paris' by Elizabeth Bowen (1935)

Synopsis: On a wet February morning, an 11 year old English girl called Henrietta arrives at the Gare du Nord in Paris. She's travelling down to her grandmother's house in the south of France. Henrietta finds herself being obliged to spend the day with a family friend while she waits for her evening train. She's picked up by a woman called Miss Fisher and is taken back to her house. Henrietta has been looking forward to this day. It's her first time in Paris and she's desperate to see the Trocadero and to have tea in a cafe. However, Miss Fisher has a surprise for Henrietta. Her visit has coincided with that of a 9 year old boy called Leopold. As a baby he was adopted by Americans living in Italy and is in Paris because his birth mother has expressed a desire to see him. Leopold's nervous excitement about meeting his mother has made him irritable. Miss Fisher is agitated and her mother is upstairs and very ill. The House in Paris is split into three sections. The first and third sections of the book are told in the present day while the second section of the book takes place 10 years in the past and is set in England, Ireland and France. It tells the story of Leopold's parents and how he came to be born.

I stumbled across an online review of this book fairly recently. It was a glowing review and the book itself sounded really interesting. Then when I was in Dublin last week I did some browsing in Hodges Figgis, which has a massive Irish Writers section, and this book was on one of their shelves. I was really keen to get a book by an Irish writer in Ireland so I bought this book and John Connolly's The Book of Lost Things.

I can't really say that I enjoyed The House in Paris. It's not that I think it's a bad book. It's just that the book did nothing for me. I happen to think that I'm an intelligent person - sorry but I do - and yet I found Bowen's writing to be quite challenging. The book has a very vivid and melancholic atmosphere - which I appreciated - but Bowen keeps going off on philosophical tangents that I simply couldn't relate to or understand. At times this book made me feel a little bit stupid. I had a hard time with the characters in the book as well. I couldn't understand the motivations of the adult characters at all which is why I found the present day sections of the book much more engaging than the past section. Although Henrietta and Leopold are both extremely precocious, and not all that likeable, they still act like typical children in many ways. They're curious, sulky and tactless. I didn't hate this book but I know I won't read it again.

Rating: 3/5

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