Today I am delighted to be hosting the blog tour for The Shadowy Third: Love, Letters, and Elizabeth Bowen by Julia Parry.
A sudden death in the family delivers Julia a box of love letters. Dusty with age, they reveal an illicit affair between the celebrated twentieth-century Irish novelist Elizabeth Bowen and Humphry House – Julia’s grandfather.
So begins an intriguing quest to discover and understand this affair, one with profound repercussions for Julia’s family, not least for her grandmother, Madeline. This is a book about how stories are told in real life, in fiction and in families.
Inspired by Bowen’s own obsession with place and memory, Julia travels to all the locations in the letters – from Kolkata to Cambridge and from Ireland to Texas. The reader is taken from the rarefied air of Oxford in the 1930s, to the Anglo-Irish Big House, to the last days of Empire in India and on into the Second World War.
The fascinating unpublished correspondence, a wealth of family photographs, and a celebrated supporting cast that includes Isaiah Berlin and Virginia Woolf add further richness to this unique work.
The Shadowy Third opens up a lost world, one with complex and often surprising attitudes to love and sex, work and home, duty and ambition, and to writing itself. Weaving present-day story telling with historical narrative, this is a beautifully written debut of literary and familial investigation from an original and captivating new voice.
Dare I say that I knew very little of Elizabeth Bowen before I read this book. But I was intrigued by the synopsis. I greatly enjoy the writers of the twentieth century and have read much by the likes of Virginia Woolf and James Joyce, so my interest was definitely piqued.
What Julia has created is an absolutely fascinating book that combines memoir, biography and history, both social and literary. I haven’t quite finished in time for the blog tour but I can honestly say that I have greatly enjoyed this book and it is incredibly engrossing. Julia has a wonderful writing style, she constructs the information together beautifully and it bursts with life and atmosphere. Her research is thorough and I love the intimacy she is able to allow us as she shares what is part of her family history but also tells us a great deal of the history of the time and of the figures who are featured within.
Not only do we have Julia’s authorial voice as she walks in her grandfather’s and Elizabeth’s footsteps, but also the added dimension brought by the excerpts from letters between Humphrey, his wife Madeline (Julia’s grandmother) and of course Elizabeth. This is not a bitter ‘reveal’ of a sordid affair but an interesting, moving and balanced view as to how it impacted on the lives (and literature) of those involved.
I am now compelled to read Elizabeth Bowen’s work. Thanks to Julia I feel I have an idea of who this author is and I look forward to discovering her work for the first time. The Shadowy Third has been an absolutely fascinating read, moving at times, and I thoroughly recommend it. I do hope that Julia continues to write, she has a wonderful voice that brings colour and life to her text.
My thanks goes to Anne Cater for inviting me to take part in this blog tour and to the publisher, Duckworth Books, for supplying me with a review copy. It is a most enjoyable read and I very much appreciate the opportunity.
About the author
Julia Parry was brought up in West Africa and educated at St Andrews and Oxford. She teaches English literature and has worked as a writer and photographer for a variety of
publications and charities. She lives in London and Madrid. This is her first book.