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Book Review of "The Heat of the Day"

Updated on July 1, 2022
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Nyamweya is a Kenyan scholar who has done many years of research on a diversity of topics.

Heat of the Day is a novel authored by Elizabeth Bowen. The book has been widely popularized with subsequent adaptations in various television dramas and plays. This paper revisits two reviews about the book, one by Rohan Maitzen from open letters monthly and another review by Whitehead and White from London Fictions. These reviews will be used to gauge the general outlook of the work by Bowen.

Rohan Maitzen describes the book, “The Heat of the Day” as ‘evocative’ and ‘atmospheric” (1). According to this author, the novel brings out the apprehensive, oppressive nature of a universe that has been literary besieged in all aspects both in moral and psychological sense. Additionally, the author’s style of writing is intrusive. Nonetheless, the author has been quite economical with the plot, and takes some time to generated suspense as anyone would expect in a novel whose theme is based on a character who is being accused of being an enemy spy. The emotional aspects of the book were either intellectualized or too indirect to prompt tears or laughter. In the novel, the sentence structure is complex, making it difficult for the audience to comprehend what is being passed across. This necessitates them to figure out what they are reading throughout the entire session(1).

Rohan Maitzen observes Bowen’s work as being too complicated to be understood by lay people; “They were truly impenetrable and in most occasions yielded to closer attention and slower reading” (Maitzen1). In order for one to understand the sentences, it is therefore, important that the audience pays close attention while reading the novel so as to understand its contents. In essence, there is hidden meaning that lie behind seemingly harmless phrases and actions, for example, alongside the danger of mistaking casual fluency for accuracy and honesty resulting to insufficient truths. The novel seems to navigate a murky verbal territory, which is the affects and aftermath of war but the author has not effectively brought out the emotions and conversations as they should in such a scenario. This make the audience unable to comprehend the clear message put across by the author.

Once the one narrator in the “The Heat of the Day” begins to speak, the audience gets a context to understand the settings in which the character is placed on. For instance, in a paragraph where Robert and Stella are seated on a coffee table, within a restaurant, was a suggestive way of presenting the components and structure of the book. In essence, the scene indicates the main theme and structures of the book and explains why these were chosen. Maitzen claims that despite Bowen being fictitious, the way he has described some scenes makes one to think that it is a reality. For instance, Stella could not believe that the restaurant where they regularly met for coffee had been bombed. She thought she was having a nightmare; she describes her feelings as going to rendezvous (2).

The two face a situation that requires a re-examination of their identities and whether they are making better use of their time. For instance, Stella thinks hard on her next move after suspecting that her lover could be a spy. In this context, “Stella” loses sense of time and does not know which period she is under. Her feelings, thoughts, and experiences are intertwined. To be able to understand her actions, it is important for the audience to gather as much information on her feelings and thoughts, not forgetting the environment the two are moving in or being shaped by. The obvious reasoning would be; leaking of sensitive information to the adversary can only occur when there is disagreement. However, it is certain that other issues could be inherent than what meet the eye. First, the link between political and personal loyalties, secondly, individual’s expectations of a family, and our identifications with our nation are some of the things that may be overlooked but could play a vital role.

Bowen author has taken into the account of the style of the Victorian novel of writing that focuses mainly on the historical literature and how they relate to the present perspective. She puts emphasis on the both past and current occurrences, making it easier for her audience to follow. For example, the audience is perturbed by the casual manner in which the author has presented the treason of Robert. The author is not clear on Robert’s motives leaving the audience to seek for clues from this book. It would be much easier if Bowen spelled out his reasons in a transparent manner, accurately and more particularly in a political sense. In essence, the words ‘Nazi’ or ‘German’ are not mentioned anywhere in the novel. Rather, the words used are mainly “they” or “adversary” (Bowen21). Roberts makes a blurred statement that people do not have the capability to manage their freedom. He says that if a man is informed of being free, he will only try to go back to commit his initial flaws. The irony of it all is that this is happening right now and will continue to do so.

Robert associates his disillusionment with the Dunkirk retreat: “I was on the off side of the war once, but that was not enough. Progressing slowly towards Dunkirk, soon afterward the war was over: “The army of the freemen lining up to sail off pleasure boats” (Bowen 22). From the over paragraphs, Maitzen observes that the theme of a spy failed to live up to its expectation. For instance, the author did not bring out the general aspect of loyalty or betrayal, raising the question of how and why loyalties are formed, not just a case of betraying Allied secrets to the Nazis. According to Maitzen, Robert’s case was more of sensitive or visceral issues than political, although he was mysterious as a character for the audience or even Stella to comprehend the main focus. This according to me is quite true considering the relationship of Robert and Nancy, who are the main characters in the story. Despite Robert being suspected of being a spy, he had demonstrated true love feelings towards Nancy who also had the same emotions(Maitzen2).

The novel raises more questions in regards to its inconsistencies in the plot structure. For instance, there is another plot with Connie and Louie as the main character but which does not align with the rest of the novel. One may argue that Louie is there partly for the reason that he may be an observer to another story. For instance, the letter Connie writes to Louie informing him of her pregnancy is a clear reverberation concerning lives affected by the battle to the extent of despair Connie’s letter reads in part, “Judging others is of no use, you must first put in mind what could be the likely cause of their action,” (Bowen56), this juxtaposition illustrates the central theme of this novel which is loyalty and love. For instance, Harrison is unsettled partly because nobody can put a trace on where he lives. Also, Harrison has something weird about his moral compass, he, for instance, attempts to coerce Stella into an intimate relationship, but eventually, he appears to be a different person, stable, more appealing. Stella, on the other hand, her life is full of errors, causing another scandal as when Robert is seen coming out of her flat, raising eyebrows regarding her character.

In their review on the same book, Whitehead and White, in the book “The Heat of the Day,” Bowens assumed that her audience already knows about places or time her character inhabits, the places in and time are real forces in a novel. For instance, the ‘tired physical smell of London’ in the darkness of the blackouts not forgetting the clear difference night bombing and light-hearted relief people felt during the day. To the characters in the book, London is a place of nightmares, danger and a place glorifying love. According to (Whitehead and White), the book itself is a causality of war, damaged in some locations, with verbs and articles omitted not forgetting odd breaches of idioms: contortions which catch the distortions of the time. For instance, Stella is asking “what is happening” (Bown29) yet she was part of the society at that time. He concludes by saying that the novel is capable of inducing precisely the excitement and anxiety lurking at its hearts.

On my perspective, the book “Heat of the Day” by Elizabeth Bowen is complex but captivating. I had to read it slowly taking into account the hard parts to understand it. The book is a love story in London during the Second World War. The story is full of slow, contemplative passages rich with exciting, precisely detailed features about our lives, touching on all aspect. For instance in the first chapter: “In this state, soaked by the rainfall; she felt her heels in pudding softness of the hot tarred the path, she smelt sweet aroma of the soil and heard it being sucked by the rain water” (Bowen34). The book is interesting but requires a calm mind, what stood out me was the description of London during the war in the fifth chapter because the setting is what inspired me the most. For those wishing to read the book, it is important to be patient up to the end because it is not an easy read. However, once you start reading it, you will find yourself completely emerged in it.


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