THE LOVE-CHARM OF BOMBS: RESTLESS LIVES IN THE SECOND WORLD WAR, by Lara Feigel
IN wartime London "each moment had the exhilarating yet unrealintensity of the last moment on earth”.
So Lara Feigel writes in this fine account of five writers involved in the civil defence of the city, but who ended up having to fight the fires blazing in their private lives.
Prudence put it crisply in the novel Caught which Yorke published under the pseudonym of Henry Green: "War ... was sex.” "It came to be rumoured,” Elizabeth Bowen recalled, "that everybody in London was in love.”
With anarchic and ghoulish glee, Graham Greene defied a death he was complicatedly seeking by making love with his mistress Dorothy Glover as the parachute mines floated down outside.
For Bowen, working for the Ministry of Information as a spy in her native Ireland, the Blitz was an opportunity to suspend her cold marriage.
Introduced in a bar to a middle-aged Canadian diplomat with a bald spot and seeing in his face "a flash of promise”, Bowen submitted, in Feigel’s words, to the "frightening exhilaration of complete vulnerability”.
Her affair with Charles Ritchie would devour her next 30 years and led to two of her best novels.
In charge of an ambulance, Bowen’s mentor, the novelist Rose Macaulay, concealed beneath an androgynous, spinsterish veneer a passionate liaison with a married ex-priest. "I don’t like the peace,” says Sarah in Greene’s novel of the Blitz, The End of the Affair.
None of Feigel’s writers – Greene, Bowen, Macaulay, Green – ever lived so intensely again.
Intelligently written, seamlessly presented, and with something of the quality of a tapestry, the book might have packed more punch had it broken off with the all-clear siren and not followed her disparate group into the slow, grey post-war years. – The Daily Telegraph