The Love-charm of Bombs: Restless Lives in the Second World War

Lara Feigel

The Love-charm of Bombs: Restless Lives in the Second World War

When the first bombs fell on London in August 1940, the city was transformed overnight into a battlefront. For most Londoners, the sirens, guns, planes and bombs heralded gruelling nights of sleeplessness, fear and loss. But for Graham Greene and some of his contemporaries, this was a bizarrely euphoric time when London became the setting for intense love affairs and surreal beauty. At the height of the Blitz, Greene described the bomb-bursts as holding one 'like a love-charm'. As the sky whistled and the ground shook, nerves were tested, loyalties examined and infidelities begun. The Love-charm of Bombs is a powerful wartime chronicle told through the eyes of five prominent writers: Elizabeth Bowen, Graham Greene, Rose Macaulay, Hilde Spiel and Henry Yorke (writing as Henry Green). Volunteering as ambulance drivers, fire-fighters and ARP wardens, these were the successors to the soldier poets of the First World War and their story has never been told. Lara Feigel interweaves letters, diaries and fiction with official civil defence records to chart the history of a burning world in wartime London and post-war Vienna and Berlin. 3.8 out of 5 based on 9 reviews
The Love-charm of Bombs: Restless Lives in the Second World War

Omniscore:

Classification Non-fiction
Genre History
Format Hardback
Pages 529
RRP £25.00
Date of Publication January 2013
ISBN 978-1408830444
Publisher Bloomsbury
 

When the first bombs fell on London in August 1940, the city was transformed overnight into a battlefront. For most Londoners, the sirens, guns, planes and bombs heralded gruelling nights of sleeplessness, fear and loss. But for Graham Greene and some of his contemporaries, this was a bizarrely euphoric time when London became the setting for intense love affairs and surreal beauty. At the height of the Blitz, Greene described the bomb-bursts as holding one 'like a love-charm'. As the sky whistled and the ground shook, nerves were tested, loyalties examined and infidelities begun. The Love-charm of Bombs is a powerful wartime chronicle told through the eyes of five prominent writers: Elizabeth Bowen, Graham Greene, Rose Macaulay, Hilde Spiel and Henry Yorke (writing as Henry Green). Volunteering as ambulance drivers, fire-fighters and ARP wardens, these were the successors to the soldier poets of the First World War and their story has never been told. Lara Feigel interweaves letters, diaries and fiction with official civil defence records to chart the history of a burning world in wartime London and post-war Vienna and Berlin.

Stephn Spender: New Selected Journals 1939-1995 ed. Lara Feigel

Reviews

The Sunday Telegraph

Richard Davenport-Hines

At a time when many dons sterilise themselves in theory, defend their flimsy doctrines inside dense thickets of jargon, and are oblivious of human character or motive, Feigel writes with modesty and grace, never patronises or sentimentalises her subjects, and makes the reader glad to be sharing her ideas. The Love-charm of Bombs is a bounding success as an account of wartime London and as a study of highly strung but tough characters under stress, and of the way that novelists transmute adultery into great art.

13/01/2013

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The New Statesman

John Sutherland

Feigel has written a wonderful book in a critical genre in which she is a pioneer. There will, for sure, be more works of “new biography”. Let’s hope they are as good as this one.

10/01/2013

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The Guardian

Tessa Hadley

The result is deeply interesting, because Feigel is a good storyteller and responsive to the nuances of expression in the period. She quotes extensively from her writers' fiction and letters and diaries, letting them tell the story in their own words; the result is, among other things, a kind of archaeology of language ... Feigel's book reads partly as the record of a peak moment in the history of British adultery.

19/01/2013

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The Spectator

Sam Leith

Certain themes emerge — ruin, separation, split loyalties, anomie, heavy drinking, sexless companionate marriages, the twining of sexual and religious angst — in the lives and the books that drew on them. This remains, though, less a war-history or literary-critical book than a deft long-form example of the higher gossip: the prime focus is on movements of the trouser and matters of the heart.

19/01/2013

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The Daily Telegraph

Nicholas Shakespeare

[A] fine account ... Intelligently written, seamlessly presented, and with something of the quality of a tapestry, it 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.

12/01/2013

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The Mail on Sunday

Craig Brown

The Love-charm Of Bombs is full of good things, clearly expressed, and captures well the strange euphoria of war, and the equally unexpected sense of dreariness when it is over. But the five writers focused on by Lara Feigel rarely come together, or behave in similar ways, which makes the book a little too bitty. The (to me, unknown) Hilde Spiel is particularly out on a limb: it is almost as if the long passages relating to her were meant for another book altogether. Feigel is also over-diligent in providing lengthy synopses of forgotten novels — unnecessary to those who have read them and meaningless to those who have not.

12/01/2013

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The Sunday Times

John Carey

As writers they were skilled word-users, and to that extent their recollections are worth having. But the question that constantly nags is how far, if at all, their experiences have any relevance to the fates of ordinary people … Feigel starts out as if her subject is to be the Blitz, but in fact it occupies less than half her book, and the rest is an anticlimax. Her five writers go their separate ways, and we follow them through the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, hopping distractingly from one life story to another. It reads like five characters in search of a subject ... The sense of a lack of focus is increased by the amount of space Feigel allocates to Spiel and her husband. It is never clear why they are included in the book at all.

13/01/2013

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The Financial Times

Virginia Rounding

Feigel draws on the diaries, letters, articles and novels of her protagonists in compiling her narrative, one danger of which — and a danger she does not entirely avoid — being that her own writing may pale in comparison.

18/01/2013

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The Observer

Robert McCrum

Absorbing and well-researched … Regrettably, Feigel does not confine herself to these lives in wartime, but tries to encompass their postwar careers as well. A shorter, tighter book might have been even more successful.

20/01/2013

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