The Death of the Heart

Title: The Death of the Heart
Author: Elizabeth Bowen
Narrator: Katherine Kellgren
Series: N/A
Publisher: Audible, Inc
Release Date: 8/20/2010
Length: 11 hours, 37 minutes
Format: Unabridged Digital Audiobook
Genres: Fiction, Classics, Literary
Source: Purchased
Purchase: Digital Audiobook
Rating: 4/5

The Death of the Heart is perhaps Elizabeth Bowen’s best-known book. As she deftly and delicately exposes the cruelty that lurks behind the polished surfaces of conventional society, Bowen reveals herself as a masterful novelist who combines a sense of humor with a devastating gift for divining human motivations.

In this piercing story of innocence betrayed set in the ’30s, the orphaned Portia is stranded in the sophisticated and politely treacherous world of her wealthy half-brother’s home in London. There she encounters the attractive, carefree cad Eddie. To him, Portia is at once child and woman, and he fears her gushing love. To her, Eddie is the only reaason 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.

This book started out slowly, causing me to question whether I wanted to go on listening to a posh-voiced narrator setting the scene of an upper-middle-class household in 1930’s London, and then I realized that I’d actually paid for it, so continued. The story picked up with Portia’s arrival, settling down to a routine of her attending school, etc. The girl bonds with the housekeeper Matchett, more than her own relatives, distant Thomas and his self-absorbed wife, Anna. Eddie, and a couple of other men who visit the Quaynes on occasion, write to Portia, send her gifts, etc. which she takes as a sign of genuine friendship from them. Eddie encourages their … friendship to the point where she pressures him to visit her at the seaside, where she’s been sent to stay while Thomas and Anna are out-of-town. During the visit her illusion about him is pierced, but repairs itself, until upon her return they have a (sort of) confrontation, which ends badly for both of them. Eddie’s “caddish” nature refers to his leading on Portia emotionally; there’s nothing particularly sexual in the book.

I was hesitant to review a book that might not seem terribly exciting in terms of plot. However, the story plays to a universal theme of a teen who’s been shuttled about, feeling she belongs nowhere. I’m not sure this would play out well in the print version; however, the narrator brings out the characters well, so that I felt invested in an outcome: Will Thomas stand up to Anna in future, and will Anna cease manipulating events? Will Portia realize that she’s going to have to make her own life, rather than stepping into a specific “role”?

-John

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