Frances and Bernard by Carlene Bauer

Many thanks to Will at Vintage books for sending me a copy of ‘Frances and Bernard’.

Carlene Bauer has written an exceptional book which perfectly encapsulates late 1940s early 1950s American polite society. It put me in mind of a more angst ridden version of ‘The Great Gatsby’. Based on the lives of Flannery O’Connor and Robert Lowell, ‘Frances and Bernard’ charts their relationship through imagined letters that also include missives to their respective friends Claire and Ted.

Initially, I enjoyed the structure and the often witty writing. I found the prose erudite and intelligent. However, as the text continued it often became too self-conscious for me really to enjoy this novel because of its literary and religious references. I would say I appreciated its style rather than warmed to it. As a result of O’Connor’s Catholic upbringing, Carlene Bauer has rightly conveyed considerable Catholic sentiment and guilt throughout the text but it felt intrusive and overbearing to a non-believer like me. There is, however, considerable emotion beautifully conveyed and I did have a sense of sadness and what might have been at the end.

Carlene Bauer is certainly a highly talented writer. I think ‘Frances and Bernard’ is a book to divide reader opinion. Some will love it and others find it more of a challenge. It was not for me.

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