Saturday, 29 October 2016

The Last September by Elizabeth Bowen

The Last September by Elizabeth Bowen
First published in the UK by Constable And Co in 1929.

This is my 1920s read for the 2016-17 Goodreads / BookCrossing Decade Challenge.
I registered my copy of this book on BookCrossing.

How I got this book:
Swapped for on Lemonford campsite book exchange

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Irish troubles rage, but up at the 'Big House', tennis parties, dances and flirtations with the English officers continue, undisturbed by the ambushes, arrests and burning country beyond the gates. Faint vibrations of discord reach the young girl Lois, who is straining for her own freedom, and she will witness the troubles surge closer and reach their irrevocable, inevitable climax.

This novel is a wonderfully sharp depiction of privileged Anglo-Irish lives in post-Great War Ireland. I couldn't believe just how vacuous and inane this family was! Their cosseted, closed-off existence, generations of being Lords of the Manor, has left them convinced of their own Irishness and frequently despising of English visitors, yet with practically no real understanding of how they are seen outside their estate walls. It felt like reading satire, but I later learned that Bowen kept ownership of her own Irish seat until the 1950s and experienced a similar upbringing to Lois. I am sure she must have seen its absurdities in order to write The Last September though.

Looking past the whirl of dances and tennis parties, the loneliness of the individual family members struck me. Lois is beyond naive and I found her incredibly irritating, but she does make an excellent counterpoint to the gathering malevolence. Hints of nationalist violence slowly build up the tension and, even though Lord and Lady maintain their casually dismissive attitudes, it becomes increasingly obvious that their time is coming to a close. The question is simply when and how. Reading The Last September was frequently reminiscent of watching BBC period drama or a Merchant Ivory film. Bowen's pace is always gentle and with great use of detail and understanding of her characters. Despite having been written within a decade of the events depicted, there is always a very real sense of lost history and times gone by.

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Books by Elizabeth Bowen / Historical fiction / Books from Ireland


  1. I haven't read many books set in Ireland and let alone set in the post war time period so I think it's pretty cool that this one is set then and manages to depict it so well. I like the historical fiction genre a lot as well, so I will be checking this one out!

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    1. The Last September was especially interesting when reading it soon after A Long Long Way by Sebastian Barry ( ) which is about Irish soldiers in the 1914-18 war.

  2. I love this book - I have varied reactions to Bowen books, but this and The Heat of the Day are real favourites.

    1. I'll have to give The Heat of the Day a read next. Thanks for the recommendation :-)
      The Last September was my first Elizabeth Bowen book, I think, and I don't know why I overlooked her writing for so long!