Eva Trout by Elizabeth Bowen


PART THREE of my review, as continued from here: https://nemonymousnight.wordpress.com/864-2/

All my reviews of Bowen novels will be linked here: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2021/11/27/elizabeth-bowens-novels/

All my links of Bowen stories: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/31260-2/

My gestalt real-time review will be conducted in the comment stream below:

5 responses to “*


    BEWARE SPOILERS – a triangulating review with those who have already read this novel or to accompany a new reading after each chapter.

    1. VISITS

    “There was no professor.”

    I recall that professor’s letter, a character I sense was a sort of epistolary spear-carrier… or not? (I have forgotten the plot yet to transpire in this book! Typically so for me – hence, my real-time reviewing, these days, being a helpful aide memoire for me, should I have sufficient future to need such an aide memoire!)

    “The door in the middle, crimson since time began, was cobalt blue . . . From inside the car behind Eva, her little boy drank in this promised, promising house – so houselike, so red-as-a-plum, so square within its fairyland orchards. He watched Eva lag – why lag? – up the clean white cement path between the wallflowers. He saw her unable to find the doorbell, then at last discover a bell, and at last press it.”

    Eva returns to England with her deaf-mute son Jeremy and first tries Larkins; the Arbles have absconded. Eva to blame? Then the Vicarage, where she meets Henry Dancey, now a young man, and his Dad. We catch up on their renewed, now poignant backstories. Henry now with a book “tucked under his elbow.” They debate the source and ongoing existence of Jeremy and the need for him to speak and hear, to become more than just a neuro-diverse, I guess.

    “He was a beautiful child, fair hair cut straight across a wide forehead, eyes with a sky-like power…”

    Mr Dancey’s outrageous facial need for a Kleenex…

    “A conviction that the vicarage tea table was bugged, if on a astral plane…”

    Henry goes off to ‘boil a kettle’. Remember Eva’s attempt to boil a kettle?

    Meanwhile, what of Cathay, I ask, where a boiling kettle was a new thing to learn?

    Jeremy’s motley collection from the Vicarage garden…includes “half of a mangled teaspoon, a minute wheel off some minute toy, the crushed empty shell of some wild bird’s speckled egg, three or four slivers of splintered mirror, […] and, not least, one orange wooden button.”

    Fractured bits that make up an outlandsh Gestalt. Indeed, this novel seems to have Aickman-like absurdism as a constant neighbour to genuine literary novelistic narrative…

    “Jeremy put the slivers of mirror into sun-rays surrounding the orange button; his patterns made sense.”


    Iseult ‘never did things by halves’, Eric says in a letter to Eva. And we become attuned to the renewed backstories of that erstwhile couple of Arbles, as well as that of Constantine at not only the Danceys at the Vicarage, but also his relationship with a potential exorcist in a different Clergy-House, one who could get the ‘devil’ out of Jeremy? If there is indeed a devil to get out of him?

    “So far, this was not being a good morning. Jeremy, in one of his paroxysms which were the inverse of his angel nature, had flung a potted gloxinia out of the window, just not decapitating a Gloucester Road pedestrian.”

    And the malacca cane Jeremy annoyingly vibrates across railings for his sense of touch if not his hearing, where distant piano music at No. 16 cannot be heard. Or can it?

    “Westering sun excluded by rooftops, one was the more in a tank of brilliant, water-coloury half-light, not yet dusk. Railings which once caged in the verdant privacy had been immolated to a forgotten war… […] Up in one of the drawing-rooms, somebody was picking out a tune on a piano. Something about the faultiness made it lyrical. The plate-glass of the sash window was slightly lifted; muslin curtains swelled in a breath of evening out of the trees. Tulips in a bowl, in the earliest, prettiest phase of a dying agony, had twisted open till they became orchids.”

    The city square that is “dead-still”.

    Not the backstory but the foreseen futurestory of Cathay, too…
    “Not even dust remained. Rooms had been aired out, nothing came back to fill them. What had been had gone. Cathay, emptied, had at the same time been by an evil paradox bled of that imperial emptiness once its. Unmeaningness reigned.” (Sic)

    Indeed, thus unmeaningness reigned, but there is the steadying of extra boiled water for the teapot in a posh hotel. If not The Hotel.
    Orange Crush for Jeremy.

    But what of the Castle? That has a renewed backstory, too.

    And Jeremy earlier “leaning an elbow out of his rolled-down window” in a reincarnation of Eva’s Jag. A prefigured Elbow exorcism?

  3. 3. EVA’S FUTURE

    Eva and Jeremy (the latter getting wet on the Cam and needs drying off) pay a visit to Henry Dancey at Cambridge University, told by Henry to come by taxi, not by her own Jag! (And where I have read up to in this long chapter, there is mention of ‘cannibalized cars’.) A typical shared student accommodation with attempted segregation of books etc, Henry’s sharer absent during the visit. One senses exactly the emotional tensions between the two grown ups here, on their way back to the station in the taxi, maybe one-sided on Eva’s part…in a passage of supreme Bowenesque…the ‘All Saints’ of yore come home to a late roost?—

    “On their way to the station, she sat locked in an anguish nobody could explain – across her, the other two played cat’s-cradle with the cord off a cake box. She could not endure this day’s being over. Fixedly looking ahead, past the driver’s ears, she cast no backward glances; she could not bear to. Nor did she need to; the beautiful agonizing mirage of the university was inescapable from. This was a forever she had no part in. The eternity was the more real to her for consisting of fiery particles of transience – bridges the punt slid under, raindrops spattering the Cam with vanishing circles, shivered reflections, echoes evaporating, shadows metamorphosiz­ing, distances shifting, glorification coming and going on buildings at a whim of the sun, grass flashing through arches, gasps of primitive breath coming from stone, dusk ebbing from waxen woodwork when doors opened. Holy pillars flowed upward and fountained out, round them there being a ceaselesss confluence of fanatical colours burningly staining glass. Nothing was at an end, so nothing stood still. And of this living eternity, of its kind and one of its children, had been Henry, walking beside her.”

    She seeks a place to buy in London… her future and Henry’s creation of a new role for Eva still uncertain….
    Her later visit from Constantine’s clerical ‘friend’ Tony builds up further sexual-emotional tensions for us to scry, and think about again, latterly, Constantine and Tony, Henry and Eva just now, and historically Iseult (Smith) Arble and Eva, Eva and Eric Arble, Constantine and Tony, Eva and her father, Constantine and Eva’s father…the last one as tragic as it now seems.
    Also, now, Eva and Jeremy! And, thus, I have been halted by this amazing road-movie passage about Eva and Jeremy in America, with cinematographic Dead Mabelle themes, with my Joe having read so far halfway through the chapter, with the second half to await its own eternity —

    “Yes: during the at-large American years, insulated by her fugue and his ignorance that there could be anything other, they had lorded it in a visual universe. They came to distinguish little be­tween what went on inside and what went on outside the diurnal movies, or what was or was not contained in the television flickering them to sleep. From large or small screens, illusion overspilled on to all beheld. Society revolved at a distance from them like a ferris wheel dangling buckets of people. They were their own. Wasted civilization extended round them as might acres of cannibalized cars. Only they moved. They were within a story to which they imparted the only sense. The one wonder, to them, of the exterior world was that anything should be exterior to themselves – and could anything be so and yet exist?
    Moments of joyful complicity had abounded. Sunrises with Jeremy capering naked on Eva’s bed like Cupid cavorting over the couch of Venus. Horseback dashings out into forest fires of fall colouring. Mimicries and secret signals. Stinging of their same faces by spray from cataracts too loud to be heard even by Eva. True, Jeremy looked more deeply into some of the images than she did. Torn skies, curdled waters, hieroglyphic smoke he had had a par­ticular way of scanning: seeking for portents? – if so, rightly.”

    • “This was the first view of it; she had not sat to him. It was a large knob, barely representational – only, he had gouged with his two thumbs deep, deep into the slimed clay, making eye-sockets go, almost, right through the cranium.”

      I forgot to record above that Jeremy, “lovechild” or not, has been taken by Eva to take up sculpting under a sculptress tutor (“The woman, who wore today more than ever her look of hallowed stupidity, mystical-bovine, was sexlessly belted into a monkish overall with thrown-back cowl, out of which rose a neck corded with tendons, supporting a head which might have been sculpted by herself – or rather projected, begun upon, then abandoned”), and there is much in the rest of this chapter connected with identity through such 3-dimensional art (“Eva came out of Box 3.”), and who is X? — and through the art in the National Portrait Gallery, and through people themselves, with that gallery being the one Eva visits on the way to collecting Jeremy from the sculptress only to find him to be abducted by a stranger just before she got there! Oh, yes, Eva was also contacted by a Miss Smith telephoning her at Eva’s hotel, someone who actually is Iseult or is impersonating Iseult. An airy new leaf turned by this Iseult character, if she is real? Much emotional and intellectual resonance gained throughout the second half of this chapter via more creatively muddled Bowenesque prose that is second to none, especially in this last novel… second only to itself! One can only describe the ineffability of life with the dislocated diffidence of this uniquely ornate greatness of fiction, I guess. Each of us who used to take ‘two or three pulls’ on cigarettes of yore, like the sculptress, ‘to bone her up’. And answered telephones to X in numbered public boxes.

      “Anyhow, what a slippery fish is identity; and what is it, besides a slippery fish? If Miss Smith had not rung up Eva, nobody else had: ‘X’ could be counted out. What is a person? Is it true, there is not more than one of each? If so, is it this singular forcefulness arising from being singular, which occasionally causes a person to bite on history? All the more, in that case, what is a person? Eva decided to see by examining many. She telephoned for the Jaguar and drove it to the National Portrait Gallery… […] Brittle bejewelled fingers and cobweb lace ornamented the surface only: one was in an internally maniacal, autocratic, doliochocephalic labyrinth. Inexorable pupil-darkened eyes, fumily burning and set in high up, and energetically compressed lips stabbed at her… […] …there is no hope of keeping a check on people; you cannot know what they do, or why they do it. Situations alter for no knowable reason – as though a game continued while you were away from the board…”

      And Dickens is in the National Portrait Gallery that day, back in his empty chair, it seems! Not forgetting Browning’s Pippa.

      “One plot unravelled, another knitting.”

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