For this month’s Something Rhymed activity, Emma Claire and I decided to each read something by one of our current profiled authors: Eva Trout by Elizabeth Bowen and The Unicorn by Iris Murdoch. Both of these books are said to have been influenced by the work of one author on the other.
I came to Eva Trout afresh, with no prior knowledge of its plot. Since I was going to be reading not only for pleasure but also for this website, I suppose I set out with a preconceived idea that the post I eventually wrote could be about one of the friendships enjoyed by the eponymous heroine.
But that’s the trouble with preconceived ideas. Long before the late stage in the novel when Eva declares ‘I have no friend’, I had been struck by the fact that my original intention wasn’t going to work at all.
The huge gap left by the lack of a true trusted confidante for much of Eva’s life was something I kept turning over in my mind as I moved through the chapters of the novel.
When the reader first encounters Eva at the start of the book, she is a young woman still waiting to come into the fortune left to her by her late father. Despite her personal wealth, Eva has not had an easy start in life. Her mother abandoned her when she was a child, only to be killed in a plane crash soon afterwards. Since her father’s suicide some years later, Constantine Ormeau, a man who appears to have been Eva’s father’s lover, has been her unsympathetic legal guardian.
Constantine regards Eva as a problem, and even Iseult Arble, a former schoolteacher who previously showed a great deal of interest in the girl and has allowed her to move into the home she shares with her husband, has begun to feel increasingly wary towards her youthful lodger.
Eva’s social awkwardness and hard-to-predict behaviour are a puzzle to most of the novel’s other characters, isolating her from those who surround her. As a reader, I don’t mind admitting that I was left somewhat puzzled, not just by the central character but aspects of the novel as a whole.
Certain episodes will undoubtedly live on in my mind – the unbearably stilted conversation that takes place between Mr and Mrs Arble as they wait for Eva to come home one evening; or the restaurant scene during which Iseult tucks into a plate of oysters in a way that is ‘at once methodical and voluptuous’, for instance. But, overall, there was something about the book that I didn’t quite ‘get’ – not in the way that I got The Death of the Heart, Bowen’s novel from thirty years earlier, or her moving short story ‘The Visitor’ – both of which thoroughly engaged me.
Like several notable readers I’ve since discovered, I struggled with some of Bowen’s decisions about language and structure, aspects of the book which I felt cut me off from the story and characters – particularly interesting in view of Murdoch’s likely influence on Bowen’s approach.
By the time I reached the final page, my thoughts on the subject of friendship had moved away from wishing for a lasting friend for Eva and onto wishing instead that my friend had read this book, so that we could discuss it together.
So, I suppose that this post has ended up as a request to Emma Claire to do just that, because I know for certain that, whether she agrees with my take on Eva Trout or not, conversations with her always provide me with interesting new ways to think about literary works. And as I mentioned in one of my posts from last month, this is something I’ve really come to value in our friendship.
Reading Bowen’s novel got me thinking about depictions of female friendship in literature. Anne Shirley and Diana Barry in L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables, Jane and Prudence in the novel of the same name by Barbara Pym, and the women of Amy Tan’s Joy Luck Club, are all examples that popped quickly into my mind. If a female friendship from a story, poem or play has left a lasting impression on you, we’d love to hear about it.
Please get in touch by leaving a comment below, or send a tweet via Twitter using the hashtag #SomethingRhymed.