I THINK this is the last novel left over from the novels I either was supposed to read for classes or would have read if I had taken a class I was otherwise intimidated by. Not that this is an intimidating novel, but it was on the list.
Elizabeth Bowen is an Irish writer who worked from the 1920s through the 1970s. She shares some similarities with Iris Murdoch in that while Irish, the bulk of her work takes places in England.
This novel involves Portia, a sixteen year old who is recently orphaned and moves in with her half-brother Thomas and his wife Anna. Anna and Thomas are both in their early 30s and have a kind of cynical version of the world guiding their decisions. It becomes very clear that neither of them, nor their writer friend St. Quentin, know what to do with a recently arrived sixteen year old ward. Because of the in-auspiciousness of her birth (child of an affair), she is not beloved, but they still try to care for her.
As happens, their churlish cynicism is too much to bear on a young mind and her naivete lands her in a frustrating, if not entirely dire situation. She “falls” for a work acquaintance of Thomas’s named Eddie, and he is a real turd.
The novel lives on its tone, which is funny and sad at the same time, without dipping too much into melodrama, but also not allowing for the prevailing cynicism of the middle characters to stand in for the earnest decency of Portia.