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To the North by Elizabeth Bowen

To the North (1932)

by Elizabeth Bowen

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Showing 1-5 of 7 (next | show all)
I thought Elizabeth Bowen's novel "To the North" was an okay book, but surely not good enough to merit a place on the list of 1,001 Books to Read Before You Die." I didn't get a lot out of the story-- it's the kind of book that are a dime a dozen these days, though maybe it was new and inventive in Bowen's day.

The story centers on two sisters-in-law, Cecilia, who was widowed a young age, and Emmeline, a woman with a head for business and the trials and tribulations of their love lives.

I felt both of the women were interesting characters, but the men they were surrounded by were really flat and uninteresting. The dialog seemed really stilted and there really didn't seem to be any connection between any of the characters. Perhaps that was the point. The book was okay, but nothing I'd urge someone else to read. ( )
  amerynth | Feb 22, 2016 |
Kind of strange- at the start, and for about half the book, I thought this was just light drawing-room comedy. Then I noticed it was getting a bit darker. Everyone felt completely alone, all while pretending to be surrounded by people they loved. Then it got a bit darker again- the main character is called 'inhuman,' and I noticed that yes, indeed, what I'd thought was whimsy could be interpreted as her being detached and emotionally non-responsive. Then it got a bit darker again, when the main character's young man is obviously seen to be an a-hole. And then the final chapter basically says: look at yourself modern world! You suck! You suck so much that you make people go crazy and drive their cars into oncoming traffic!

At the start, I thought, nice and light, three stars. The middle two quarters I thought, this is really great, five stars! The ending's so oddly tacked on - great in its own way, but so cut off from the novel - that I came back to four stars. Well worth reading, though not as good as The Heat of the Day. ( )
1 vote stillatim | Dec 29, 2013 |
This is an exceptionally rarefied book - set in a small elite social circle between the wars, where everyone is tired and somehow purposeless. Travel forms a counterpoint to the focus on two young women and their relationships - starting on a train, the book ends in a car, as the dance of partnership ends. This is a book of psychological acuity rather than action - two single sisters in law, so different, are defined in relationship with men, women, their environment, and as one emerges stronger, the other falls apart. The description of internal states and the external world is exquisite and again the growth of love and romantic relationships is set against the many other ways, often comic and grotesque, in which people relate to each other. This is a book to read slowly and to savour - I will remember the girls' school, the flight to Paris, emmeline's silver dress, the back garden in st John's Wood, for a long time..
3 vote otterley | Jul 13, 2013 |
For all that the dialog throughout was so stultifyingly alien, this ended very well -- perhaps because the last pages were in narrative. The manner in which these people converse, these British, 1920s, wealthy, painfully reared and exquisitely trained people, is so layered in Received and ulterior meaning that I couldn't follow them. An engagement ring has an emerald and a relative asks whether the wearer is superstitious: this I can follow, from this I understand that in this culture an emerald is more than a pretty green thing. (Um, also I remember from Lace that Lili calls emeralds unlucky -- kill me now -- so it must be a Thing, even though it doesn't come up in Auntie Mame when Mame gives someone emeralds yet somehow manages to insult her with the gift.) But whether Dorothy liked her uncle, or whether either young woman liked their aunt-esque and how much she was supposed to resemble Lady Bracknell or Aunt Dahlia or Agatha I could not tell. They're all so languid that the suspense of the final action really surprised me.
  ljhliesl | May 21, 2013 |
I have read a lot of praise about this book recently and there seems to be a resurgence of people who are interested in Elizabeth Bowen and her works. She is mentioned in a lot of books I have read including Howard’s End is on the Landing by Susan Hill and Reading like a Writer by Francine Prose. I have been looking forward to reading this book as everyone says that it is probably one of her best. The story centers around two young women living in 1920s London. The recently widowed Cecilia Summers and her late husband’s sister Emmeline, two unlikely friends drawn together because of the tragedy of losing a husband and brother. They begin to live together and their lives become intertwined. Cecilia begins to move towards a second marriage even though she is not sure that she can really ever love anyone. Emmeline who is gentle, independent, calm and sweet finds herself drawn to the predatory Mark Linkwater. This sets the stage for one large scope of a psychological story that leads to one life shattering moment.

I admired the writing of this story so much because Elizabeth Bowen does an excellent job at creating characters and describing their personalities so acutely it is easy to imagine each of these characters from their physical looks to their intense and different personalities. Not a lot happens in this novel story wise, when I tried to describe it to a friend after I had read the story I realized that it can sound boring, what is so wonderful about this book is the psychological acutely that becomes so absorbing and fascinating it makes the book hard to put down. It is easy to see why so many people love Elizabeth Bowen. ( )
2 vote Renz0808 | May 22, 2011 |
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Towards the end of April a breath from the north blew cold down Milan platforms to meet the returning traveller.
For some minutes they drove in silence ... she bore left, uphill ... They swung up the winding curves of the Finchley Road. ... He saw "The NORTH" written low, like a first whisper, on a yellow A.A. plate with an arrow pointing: they bore steadily north between spaced-out lamps, chilly trees, low rows of houses asleep, to their left a deep lake of darkness: the aerodrome. "Hendon", he said.... She turned right up the Barnet by-pass.... Banks rushed up to take their light each side of the by-pass; afterwards, ghostly young beeches along the kerb.
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