About two-thirds of the way through Lara Feigel’s new book, two of her five central characters find themselves in Vienna in the spring of 1948. Graham Greene was in the city to do research for the screenplay of The Third Man, while Elizabeth Bowen was on a British Council lecture tour. Both stayed in the same hotel, the Sacher, and they had dinner together one evening. ‘Elizabeth Bowen and Graham Greene did not have a close friendship,’ Feigel notes, but they were part of the gossipy, incestuous world of 1940s literary England, and a couple of months after that evening Bowen reviewed Greene’s new novel, The Heart of the Matter, with high praise in Tatler. It’s a nice coincidence, one of the many crossings that make up the structure for Feigel’s agreeable The Love-charm of Bombs.
Twenty pages later, however, Feigel describes Vienna as ‘the city she [Bowen] and Graham Greene had visited together’. A chance meeting has become a joint visit; this is not exactly untrue, as Bowen and Greene did visit Vienna at the same time, and were together there for an evening. It