, ,

Image provided by Maija Liinamaa

Maija Liinamaa
Writer for the B.C. Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure

Affiliation with UVic English: Alumni, B.A. with distinction 1996

Special Book: The Death of the Heart, Elizabeth Bowen

When did you first read this book: I was 13 when I discovered this novel, written in 1938, about a 16-year-old orphan sent to live with her sophisticated, emotionally brittle relatives in London and the tangle of first love and betrayal that results. I was besotted by its sensuously rendered atmosphere of Englishness and elegantly jaded characters who smoked in drawing rooms and had clever conversations in which the undercurrent of what was not being said continuously crackled and hummed. I read and re-read it compulsively and have carried some of its passages with me my whole adult life.

Which sentence from this book has special significance for you?

“She walked about with the rather fated expression you see in photographs of girls who have subsequently been murdered, but nothing had so far happened to her…This morning, when she saw Portia coming, she signalled dreamily with a scarlet glove.”

What does the sentence mean to you?

That particular description, although of a relatively minor character (who, incidentally, does not get murdered) has always stuck with me as one example of Bowen’s wonderfully poised, frequently wry narrative voice. That voice was a revelation to me at an age when I read mostly mediocre teen novels in which shopping and wardrobe figured largely, and it changed my relationship to fiction. It caused me to begin to think about style and character and created a hunger for books as intelligently and beautifully written as The Death of the Heart.