‘The Jungle’ by Elizabeth Bowen

Bowen, Elizabeth 1929

The Jungle by Elizabeth Bowen, 1929

The magic trick:

Replicating all aspects of childhood friendship

Oh boy, another prep school coming-of-age story! Hooray! (Those sentences were typed with sarcasm, in case it wasn’t clear.)

Thing is, though, this one is really good. It’s very recognizable and that goes to the honest and detailed picture Bowen paints of the friendship between Rachael and Elise. That involves carving out a physical place for their friendship to exist – the so-called jungle. That involves capturing the admiration, the hero worship, the faint sexual attraction, the jealousy, the anger. It’s all there – all the melodramatic twists and turns of immature teenaged friendship. This story nails it. I was never a melodramatic teenaged girl at an elite British boarding school during the early 20th century, despite what you may have heard. But I could understand these characters completely. And that’s quite a trick on Bowen’s part.

The selection:

Elise had stopped swinging. She hung rigid a moment then dropped, bent knees apart.

“Damn,” she said naturally.

Rachael said “Dash” herself, sometimes “Confound.” She knew people who said “Confound” quite often, but she had never had a friend of her own who said “Damn” before.

“Don’t be profane,” she said laughingly excitedly.

Elyse stood ruefully brushing the moss from her hands.

“Damn’s not profane,” she said. “I mean it’s nothing to do with God.”

She took Rachael’s arm again. They strolled towards the end of the kitchen garden.

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