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The Love-Charm of Bombs

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. Now, opening with a meticulous evocation of a single night in September 1940, Lara Feigel brilliantly and beautifully 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. She reveals the haunting, ecstatic, often wrenching stories that triumphed amid the mess of a war-torn world.
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A powerful chronicle of wartime London as experienced by five writers - driving ambulances, fighting fires and falling passionately in love

About the Author

Dr Lara Feigel is a Lecturer in English and the Medical Humanities at King's College London, where her research is centred on the 1930s and the Second World War. She is the author of Literature, Cinema and Politics, 1930-1945 and the editor (with Alexandra Harris) of Modernism on Sea: Art and Culture at the British Seaside and (with John Sutherland) of the New Selected Journals of Stephen Spender. She has also written journalistic pieces for various publications, including the Guardian, Prospect and History Today. Lara lives in West Hampstead, London.


Intelligently written, seamlessly presented * Nicholas Shakespeare, Daily Telegraph * [A] fascinating and brilliantly researched group biography ... an extraordinary tapestry of life in wartime, from September 1940 in London to the ruins of postwar Europe ... This is a glorious mixture of history, literature and riveting gossip about war as - yes - an aphrodisiac ... what remains with you at the end of this engaging book is the sense that Larkin was right, and that after the bomds, after the grieving, 'what will survive of us is love' * Bel Mooney, Daily Mail * 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 * Craig Brown, Sunday Mail * One pleasure of this brave and original book is seeing these lives overlap, mirror each other, and diverge ... Feigel shows the English in a new light: not cold or repressed, but a sensuous people for whom love matters most of all. She also shows why the period from September 1940 to May 1941, when we stood alone against the powers of darkness, remains the defining moment in our recent history * Peter J. Conradi, Independent * 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 * John Sutherland, New Statesman * A fine account of how five writers responded imaginatively to the blitz ... Lara Feigel, a young critic, has transformed this insight into an absorbing and well-researched group biography of five prominent writers ... She persuasively demonstrates that London in 1941 sponsored all the sensations usually found on the battlefield ... Feigel is particularly good on the erotic corollary to the blitz: wartime passion * Robert McCrum, Observer * Vivid account ... Reads like an apocalyptic thriller ... Feigel describes the drama hour by hour, much of it through the eyes of her subjects, in a fashion that brings Sarah Waters's excellent Second World War novel The Night Watch to mind ... A fine book that brings the writers of the Second World War into the spotlight ... The breadth and depth of Feigel's research is admirable, but this is not a dry account of famous lives. Her love and curiosity about her subjects is palpable and her writing style is simple but affecting. It is a substantial study but the 465 pages fly by surprisingly quickly ... A thrilling insight to each writer's response to war, both published and private * Independent on Sunday * 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 ... I haven't for many a year read a book of literary scholarship with such impatience to know what happens next * Richard Davenport-Hines, Sunday Telegraph * Scintillating account of the lives of London litterateurs during the Blitz * Scotsman * A skilfully composed group portrait ... The result is deeply interesting, because Feigel is a good storyteller and responsive to the nuances of expression in the period * Tessa Hadley, Guardian * [An] excellent group biography * Scotsman * Lara Feigel's book is a well-researched, novelistically narrated story ... [an] engaging and well-handled group biography * Sam Leith, Spectator * Feigel has thoroughly researched her subject * Sunday Express * From these various fragments she has created a meticulously researched and elegantly rendered whole * Newsweek * An enchanting biography ... A genuinely accessible text * Western Daily Press * Her new book, in the estimation of the Mail on Sunday's Craig Brown, "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" ... Richard Davenport-Hines, in the Daily Telegraph, pronounced it "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 ... I haven't for many a year read a book of literary scholarship with such impatience to know what happens next." * Oldie * The descriptions of the atmosphere in London during the Blitz are extraordinary * Cara (Aer Lingus) * Lara Feigel attracted very good notices for her study of literary London during the blitz ... An ideal book for that wet afternoon by the beach * Robert McCrum, Observer, Summer Reads * A strikingly original book. It succeeds in its ambitious combination of group biography and literary criticism ... The Love-charm of Bombs excels in demonstrating that these years of bleakness and loss were also, for a fortunate few, a time of extraordinary excitement and literary aspiration * Economist * A lovingly researched book that focuses on the experiences of five writers living in London during those suspenseful months ... Ms. Feigel ... Writes well about Bowen, Greene and Green ... Ms. Feigel's sympathetic portrait of the woman unkindly referred to by Virginia Woolf as "a spindle shanked withered virgin" is especially welcome because no good biography has as yes been written of Macaulay. By revealing her under pressure during those wartime years, when she lost not only her home, but also her secret lover of almost two decades, Ms. Feigel animates a rare, passionate and courageous figure ... This is an enterprising, lively and original work, full of striking cameos and fresh insights * International Herald Tribune * A fascinating work of high art and low morals ... A seductive mix of history, literature and gossip, it reveals war to be the most potent of aphrodisiacs and proves that novelists can transmute adultery into great literature * Sebastian Shakespeare, Tatler * Another brilliantly researched story, this time of life and love from London to Vienna, as five famous writers dodged the falling bombs * Daily Telegraph *

Feigel (English, Kings Coll.; Literature, Cinema, and Politics, 1930-1945) simultaneously pens a history of wartime London during the Blitz (1940-41) and biographical snapshot of Elizabeth Bowen, Henry Green, Graham Greene, Rose Macaulay, and Hilde Spiel, whose romantic and creative passions were ignited by the war. Willingly transformed into firefighters, ambulance drivers, and nurses, the authors through their romantic and sexual encounters recorded here show how pervasive the sentiment of exhilaration really was, though less commonly documented. Feigel suggests that World War II provided the welcome opportunity not only to write passionate characters but to become these characters in real life. VERDICT This meticulously researched biography (boasting 39 pages of notes and bibliography) reads as a historical narrative-action explodes from the page-with descriptions of firefighting using primitive equipment, snuffing out incendiary bombs wearing helmets, and desperate surgical procedures. By contrast, amorous meetings in dim bars, quiet but for the sound of the distant air raid sirens and muffled "choom" of another bomb silencing the love of a fellow Londoner are heard somewhere in the city. Recommended to fans of the featured writers, World War II history, and biography.-Benjamin Brudner, Curry Coll. Lib., Milton, MA (c) Copyright 2013. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

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