Tuesday, 2 March 2021

#BlogTour The Shadowy Third: Love, Letters, and Elizabeth Bowen by Julia Parry

'A rare blend of literary biography and family memoir centred around a secret love affair between Elizabeth Bowen and the author’s grandfather.'

It's a pleasure to take part in the BlogTour The Shadowy Third: Love, Letters, and Elizabeth Bowen by Julia Parry.

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.

About the book

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The fascinating unpublished correspondence, a wealth of family photographs, and a celebrated supporting cast that includes Isaiah Berlin and Virginia Woolf add further richness to this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. 


This is a semi-biographical homage to Elizabeth Bowen, the Anglo-Irish novelist and short story writer. A woman who had a long-term affair with Humphry House – Julia’s grandfather. The book is a way of examining the past, the love triangle that emerged over the years and putting the truth out there to combat the misconceptions. Her journey begins when an uncle shows her love letters between House and Bowen. What I would call a legacy of correspondence.

I could quote parts of this book over and over again, both the words of the author and those of Elizabeth Bowen. The author has a particularly acute insight into the role of each individual and their perceptions of each other and how they and the situation was perceived by others. 

One of the moments that resonated with me the most was the way Madeline managed to eradicate and diminish her own voice by destroying her correspondence, thereby making herself a character in history as defined, described and as perceived by Bowen and House. It silences her in history and she becomes, like many other women in history, a footnote to the experiences of those who are written into history or leave evidence of themselves behind for future generations.

I was of two minds after reading this, whether the adulation the author has for Bowen's talent supersedes the role of her grandmother in the story. Indeed what would Madeline have said about this book after doing her utmost to change or steer the narrative of the love triangle in the book by Glendinning.

I'm already thinking about who I can buy a copy of this book for. I was absolutely mesmerised by the way Parry made this non-fictional read into a smorgasbord of literary delight. The way the words of Bowen, the letters of family and friends become intertwined with those of the author to create a masterpiece in its own right. A delight to read.

The Shadowy Third: Love, Letters, and Elizabeth Bowen at Amazon Uk or go to Goodreads for any other retailer. Publication date: 25 February 2021 - £16.99 Hardback. Buy at Amazon com. Hive. Bookshop org. Waterstones.

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