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The Love-charm of Bombs: Restless Lives in the Second World War Hardcover – July 9, 2013


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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

It wasn’t just in movies that London during the blitz bred romance. It happened in real life, too, as Feigel makes clear in this fascinating group biography of five English writers who spent the blitz years fighting fires, driving ambulances, serving as air wardens, and, above all, making love, usually in illicit relationships. From late 1940 into 1941, when the bombs were at their most terrifying, Graham Greene, Elizabeth Bowen, Rose Macaulay, Henry Green, and Hilde Spiel risked their lives in relief work while engaging in life-defining love affairs. Clocks tended to stop when bombs exploded nearby, Feigel notes, “and the suspended present created a climate where intense emotions could flourish.” Or, as a character in Henry Green’s Caught puts it, “War . . . was sex.” Of course, it was more than that, and if, at times, these writers’ obsessive focus on their erotic lives seems a little myopic, that’s the point: how the intensity of life during the blitz translated inevitably into a craving for human connectedness. Though the latter portions of the book, which follow the writers’ postwar lives, seem anticlimactic, this is a compelling study of an endlessly fascinating moment in world history. --Bill Ott

Review


“Intelligent and lucidly written book is continuously interesting and illuminating, in places even brilliant.”—Wall Street Journal

“Lovingly researched…this is an enterprising, lively and original work, full of striking cameos and fresh insights.”—New York Times Book Review

“A strikingly original book. It succeeds in its ambitious combination of group biography and literary criticism.”—The Economist

“Lara Feigel’s ambitious fusion of criticism and biography… The Love-Charm of Bombs is a richly layered work… her writing radiates with poignance and insight.”—Boston Globe

"An absorbing, insightful work."—Publishers Weekly


“A writerly work that entices readers to seek out the titles in question.”—Kirkus Reviews

"[A] fascinating group biography...this is a compelling study of an endlessly fascinating moment in world history."—Booklist

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 528 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury Press (July 9, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1608199843
  • ISBN-13: 978-1608199846
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.6 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #994,919 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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3.9 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

34 of 34 people found the following review helpful By S Riaz TOP 500 REVIEWER on January 21, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition
This is the fascinating account of the Second World War seen through the eyes of five famous authors: Elizabeth Bowen, Rose Macaulay, Henry Yorke (Henry Green), Graham Greene and Hilde Spiel. The book begins in London during the Blitz, a "makeshift present in which pre-war morality seemed less relevant" and the threat and danger of imminent death made people want to grab every experience and relish every moment. Elizabeth Bowen and Graham Greene were both ARP wardens, enforcing the blackout, Rose Macaulay drove an ambulance and Henry Yorke was an auxiliary fireman. These four authors shared experiences and friends and met socially. Hilde Spiel shows the war from a different perspective - that of an exiled author, who suffered depression and homesickness, as well as struggling financially and having a small child and her parents to care for during wartime.

During the time period of this book the author discusses novels written, love affairs undertaken and where the war takes the five authors. Both Graham Greene and Henry Yorke had evacuated their wives and children to the country, allowing them the freedom to have affairs. Greene's lover was Dorothy Glover, while Henry Yorke met Mary Keene; a young girl who tended to pilfer from houses they visited together. Rose Macauley's long term lover Gerald O'Donovan was seriously ill at the beginning of the war and Elizabeth Bowen met Charles Ritchie, during the war years, who was to become the love of her life. As well as affairs of the heart, the author discusses how they were affected by the bombs themselves - the Blitz not only created a world of freedom and intimacy, it also, of course, destroyed homes, lives and personal possessions.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Paul A. Myers on August 23, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Great writing and vignettes on some of the fascinating English writers who worked as air raid wardens and ambulance drivers during the Blitz of London. True character was revealed to these writers through their own sense of duty, the tragedy and greatness they saw on a daily basis when the going was tough. Such a refreshing contrast from today's over-made up, narcissistic cultural "icons" of the "me first and always" media and cultural generations.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Victor Emanuel on August 30, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Feigel's excellent research and writing have sent me back to reading Henry Green ('Caught,' 'Back,' and 'Loving') and Elizabeth Bowen ('The Heat of the Day') with new appreciation. Danger and daring excite Eros, and Feigle conveys this well.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By DavefromNY on August 29, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
superb book, a time travel device to put us in the shoes (and beds) of some of the last century's most interesting literary characters as they make love and war in WW2 London.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Roger Brunyate TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on January 5, 2014
Format: Hardcover
I don't normally read or review non-fiction, but this is a book about novelists. Two of them are favorites (Elizabeth Bowen and Graham Greene); two (Rose Macaulay and Henry Yorke a.k.a. Green) are great writers whom I have merely sampled; and the fifth (Austrian expatriate Hilde Spiel) was completely unknown to me. All five lived in London during the Blitz of 1940-41, engaged in often heroic civilian work, found their lives expanding in unexpected ways as the normal barriers came down, and transmuted their experiences into writing of the greatest power. Feigel's brilliantly-titled book could almost serve as a reader's guide to such masterpieces as Greene's THE END OF THE AFFAIR, Bowen's THE HEAT OF THE DAY, or Yorke/Green's CAUGHT, besides providing essential background to more modern novels of the Blitz such as Sara Waters' THE NIGHT WATCH or Kate Atkinson's LIFE AFTER LIFE, as seen by writers who actually lived through it.

During the Blitz, Greene and Bowen were both air raid wardens, Macaulay drove an ambulance, and Yorke worked as an auxiliary fireman -- all this in addition to their day jobs and whatever time they found for writing.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Jaylia3 TOP 1000 REVIEWER on October 29, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The Love-charm of Bombs has a very interesting slant on life during and immediately after WWII because its focus is the experiences of five noteworthy authors, Elizabeth Bowen, Graham Greene, Rose Macaulay, Hilde Spiel, and Henry Yorke, who wrote under the name Henry Green. Since it discusses the way the war affected what they wrote in such fascinating detail, it added a number of books to my already over long to-be-read list, so be forewarned.

This book opens during the Blitz of London when four of the authors had active roles in the late night, class-mixing, civilian mobilization that played a crucial part in protecting the city. Rose Macaulay spent her nights driving an ambulance to still smoking ruins to collect the wounded, Henry Green put out sometimes raging bomb-ignited fires as an auxiliary fireman, and Elizabeth Bowen and Graham Greene roamed pitch-dark streets to enforce the blackout as ARP wardens. Nightly danger and the high drama of their jobs became a kind of aphrodisiac so all of them were involved in passionate affairs that had a lifelong influence on the stories they wrote. As a more isolated young mother and an Austrian writer in exile, Hilde Spiel's experiences during the war were different but equally absorbing and they round out the book.

The book continues to follow the writers' upturned lives and intense love affairs into the early post war years when Europe was restructuring and Cold War was starting. For most of the five, the Blitz was the high point of their lives, filled with excitement and purpose, and for me the vivid chapters that covered that time are the most engrossing part of the book, though I enjoyed all of it. The interconnected WWII experiences of these highly literate civilians make compelling reading, especially since The Love Charm of Bombs is written with a sort of fervent scholarship.
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