Hello everyone and welcome to the first of many posts in my Friday’s Choice series. I have decided to start this series with a short story review, so I am going to be talking about Elizabeth Bowen’s short story, The Back Drawing Room.
Bowen’s intriguing short story invites readers to think about if people and places are defined by things that came before, as the key theme that Bowen explores in this short story is the idea that the past is ever-present. This suggestion that the past is always haunting the present is something that Bowen explores often in her writing and it is particularly noticeable in The Back Drawing Room.
There is a cinematic quality to this short story and one could say it has all of the components of a wonderfully compelling ghost story. The atmosphere that Bowen creates is cozy, and warm, and yet there is an air of mystery to every word, keeping readers engaged.
The plot is fairly simple, friends are at a party. They have retired to the back drawing room to have drinks and chats by the fireplace. It’s late. It’s intimate. As the night goes on and drinks flow, the conversation turns, as they often do after a few drinks, to more philosophical topics. The group is discussing the afterlife and one can envision this quite easily, merry friends, in the dim light, gathered around in the early hours of the morning discussing death. A mysterious man, who remains unnamed speaks up from the corner of the room to tell a story. He speaks of a time when he had a punctured tire and knocked on the door of a nearby house for help, where he was instructed to wait in the back drawing room. He goes on to say that after this event, anyone he told insisted he was mistaken as the house he received help in had burned down two years ago.
Something to note is this short story takes place after Bowen’s The Last September, although I think that while it can be read as a sequel, I believe both stories can be read as stand alone pieces.
This story is a very thought-compelling read as Bowen allows readers to fall into the expectations of a standard ghost story and then switches gears with a twist at the end of the tale. If you do not want any spoilers then I would recommend not reading beyond this point, as I am going to be discussing the twist and how it provides a great deal of nuance to this text in the next paragraph.
Spoilers from this point on.
This is not a traditional ghost story, and Bowen cleverly subverts expectations. The house the man visited did burn down two years prior however the family did not die, they simply had to relocate but locals and old neighbours talk about them as though they are dead. The idea here is that all of their family history, generations of living and laughing and growing up in that house are now gone. Their roots were burned to the ground and Bowen explores the idea of haunting in a very interesting way. The family, while not dead, do still haunt this place. That house always will. The place where it stood will never simply be land, it will always be known as the place where the big house used to be, where that family used to live, as time goes on, it will be marked as three, four, five years since the fire etc, etc. So, even though the family have relocated and they are trying to build a new home somewhere else, they will always haunt the old one and while that house is not physically standing anymore, it will always be there.
Spoilers Over. Final Thoughts.
My final thoughts are that The Back Drawing Room is a beautifully written, intriguing and unconventional story that prompts many questions and thoughts in the reader and in my opinion, the reason why short stories are so appealing is because the author gives readers a snippet in time, and I think a successful short leaves readers wanting more, which I believe Elizabeth Bowen achieves in The Back Drawing Room.
I hope that you all enjoyed this review, maybe you have even gotten a short story recommendation. If anyone has read this story, I’d love to hear what you thought of it and if anyone goes on to read it, I’d love to hear your thoughts and if you enjoyed it, so feel free to leave comments and let me know.