Posts Tagged ‘elizabeth taylor’

I am writing this while in a very bad mood – and that’s why I haven’t blogged earlier in the week as I had originally intended and why I am behind in reading and commenting on other blogs. It is amazing how trying to sort out what should be a minor issue can become all-consuming, take over your days, and interrupt your nights. I am so distracted and mithered that I am finding it hard to concentrate. I am already finding writing full reviews more challenging than it used to be, so I didn’t really need this as well.  

However, while I am struggling to write properly about books, I am reading them – not in such large numbers as I would like but I am thoroughly enjoying the business of reading, choosing what to read next and sitting quietly for a while with a book. There’s a special kind of comfort in sitting up late in silence while the world slows down a little and entering that world that you have wanted to return to since you last laid the books aside. That never diminishes. A feeling that only the booklover understands. 

The book I started November with is the perhaps oddly titled Two Thousand Million Man Power by Gertrude Trevelyan (1937) which I was delighted to receive a review copy of. I will definitely be reviewing it later this month. It’s a brilliant novel – ignored for something like eighty years it is finally being reissued by Boiler House Press at the end of the month. It’s about a man and a woman, ordinary people over several years, against the backdrop of all that was going on in the 1920s and 1930s, their dreams and the slow destruction of those dreams when everyday life is brought into play. I shall say nothing more, but please look out for it; it really is quite brilliant.  

Several weeks ago, I suddenly had the urge to re-read Elizabeth Taylor’s A View of the Harbour (1947) – which I did. Re-reading Elizabeth Taylor is always a pleasure and I decided I should give myself permission to do this more often. Then quite coincidentally my book group decided to read an Elizabeth Taylor for November, and after some discussion we settled on Palladian (1946). So, my second read of the month has been that. I found my memory of it to have been rather sketchy – I remembered a few important things but had forgotten others. It certainly isn’t her best book, but there are flashes of her brilliance in it, and while parts are a little over-wrought, her characterisation is as fine as ever. I finished rather sorry there wasn’t just a little more.  

That, I suppose is why we keep the books we do. So that we can one day take out an old friend, open up the pages and say – “ah, yes, I remember you.” There is a comfort in familiarity too.  

I haven’t bought any books for a few weeks (polishes halo) but a couple have come into my life. Two Christmas themed reads from the British Library The White Priory Murders a mystery for Christmas by Carter Dickson (1934) (aka John Dickson Carr) and from the women writers’ series Stories for Christmas (2022). I am saving both for next month. I have also just redeemed a Persephone gift voucher I had from Liz back in May for my birthday. I have ordered Dorothy Whipple’s The Other Day (1936)– and I can’t wait for it to come.  

Speaking of Persephone, I realised I had quite a bit of a Persephone backlog, I received several last Christmas which I still haven’t read. So, while everyone else seems to be reading novellas for novellas in November (I shall try to join in later in the month) I am contemplating starting one of two huge Persephone tomes. I just fancy getting really stuck into a big novel. I have The Oppermanns by Lion Feuchtwanger (1934) and The Deepening Stream by Dorothy Canfield Fisher (1930) to choose between, and I fully intend to settle down later this afternoon and make my choice. There are still a few other Persephones unread in the cupboard, but I have a feeling that I shall probably cheat and read that new Dorothy Whipple before I read them.  

That’s all from me for now, I shall endeavour to write properly about something I have read soon. In the meantime, happy reading.  

Read Full Post »

When I saw that The Soul of Kindness was going to be featured on the Backlisted podcast – (which I admit I don’t often manage to listen to but will do this time) – I decided the time had come to re-read it. I first read it almost exactly seven years ago and had very fond memories of it. I definitely appreciated it even more this time. Elizabeth Taylor is just so gifted at portraying awkward or unequal relationships. The quiet manipulation of one person over another – the suffocating loneliness of someone trapped in an unsatisfying relationship, the misery of unrequited love. The relationships in this novel are fascinating and portrayed to perfection, Taylor creates so many ‘types’ that we recognise instantly.

The Soul of Kindness of the title is Flora Quatermaine, a beautiful young woman, who is celebrating her marriage to Richard as the novel opens. One of our first glimpses of her is as her new husband is making a speech; stepping outside the wedding marque to minister to her doves. The eyes of many of her wedding guests follow her – she is the focus of attention and not the groom nervously making his speech. This is typical.  Flora is adored by everyone, an adoration she appears to feel is her due. She is always making an entrance.

“Here I am!” Flora called to Richard as she went downstairs. For a second, Meg felt disloyalty. It occurred to her of a sudden that Flora was always saying that, and that it was in the tone of one giving a lovely present. She was bestowing herself. “

Four years on and Flora has everything she wants; her husband Richard, a baby on the way and a lovely home in St. Johns Wood. Flora organises her life the way she likes it. Surrounds herself with people who indulge in what Richard at one time disloyally thinks of as “Flora worship.” She counts on Meg to never forget her birthday, Meg who always looked after her, protected her at school. She delights in helping Kit, encouraging his unrealistic expectations, buying him a suit that is embarrassingly expensive – sweeping aside everyone else’s cautions.

Mrs Lodge; is Flora’s housekeeper, Flora has made a special friend of Mrs Lodge and simply can’t imagine her life without her. Mrs Lodge hates London, and dreams of life in the country. The people, who surround Flora, conspire to protect her from herself, the truth of what she is. For Flora is a quiet, smiling monster. Flora only sees what she wants to see, hears what she wants to hear, she lives in a self-imposed bubble. She has her own ideas about the people around her and is blind to any alternative. Her father-in-law, Percy thinking her biddable when she first married Richard, soon revises his opinion.

Richard is a rather insipid character and very much feels like an also ran within his relationship with Flora. He develops an odd friendship with neighbour Elinor Pringle. Richard see something in her that he recognises, someone who like him, is rather alone within their marriage. This is a recurring theme; there are many lonely people in this novel.

Elizabeth Taylor’s minor characters are just as deftly explored as her central characters. Richard’s father; Percy has a lady friend Ba, whom Flora is certain he should marry. Flora is delighted when the marriage comes off, but Percy had enjoyed the years of visiting Ba in the evening, having that to look forward to all day, now he isn’t sure how to manage his evenings. Percy is brilliantly drawn, he hates the idea of foreign travel, and sulks like a child when Ba goes to France for a week. Meanwhile, Flora’s mother Mrs Secretan lives in the country with her companion/housekeeper Miss Folley, Miss Folley invents old love letters to read out to Mrs Secretan and makes spice cakes when Flora is expected to visit, these visits are always greatly anticipated by both women.

Meg and her brother Kit have to move to Towersey in the Thames Valley where they meet the bohemian painter Liz Corbett. Liz hears all about the wondrous Flora, but unlike everyone else, she absolutely refuses to believe in Flora’s goodness. Despite only being a very minor character in the novel – Liz’s attitude to Flora appears to be the only sensible one.

What I love about Elizabeth Taylor is how she is able to reveal the truth of people in their small private moments. This view of Percy remains one of my favourite excerpts.

“A quiz programme. Two rows of people facing one another. A pompous, school-masterly man asking the questions. Those answers that Percy knew he spoke out loudly and promptly; when he was at a loss he pretended (as if he were not alone) that he had not quite caught the question, or he was busy blowing his nose to make a reply, or had to go to help himself to whiskey.”

The subtlety of Elizabeth Taylor’s writing is masterly. She could have made Flora a shrieking harpy of a monstrosity, yet she is a more benign presence for most of the novel. Flora’s true personality creeps up on the reader as the novel progresses in quite subtle ways.

It would seem that The Soul of Kindness was not the best received of Elizabeth Taylor’s novels, nor the most successful. In The Other Elizabeth Taylor, the biography by Nicola Beauman, the author suggests that The Soul of Kindness is too long, that it would have made a very good short story or novella.

“It is in this novel more than in any of her others that she suffered from being forced, according to the conventions of English and American publishing, to spin things out to seventy or eighty thousand words.”

(Nicola Beauman – The Other Elizabeth Taylor )

I don’t really agree, there is nothing in the novel that feels forced or padded out to me. Certainly Elizabeth Bowen, a long-time friend and champion of Elizabeth Taylor apparently liked it a good deal and I for one wouldn’t want to argue with her. The writer and critic Philip Hensher described The Soul of Kindness as “so expert that it seems effortless.” That I can certainly agree with.

Read Full Post »

Well I have finished reading The Mandelbaum Gate by Muriel Spark my second book for the 1965 club, but as I am currently away, I don’t think I will get it reviewed before Sunday. So, I have taken a little look into the archives – and it does seem as if 1965 was a pretty good year all round.

A Dedicated Man by Elizabeth Taylor

Undoubtedly one of my favourite writers, this is one of four collections of stories published during her life time. As well as a gifted novelist, Taylor wrote extraordinarily good short stories too, and this collection is no exception.  In these stories Elizabeth Taylor considers the relationships between mothers and daughters, and husbands and wives, between neighbours and that terrifying creature the Englishman/woman abroad. She reveals small snobberies and the selfishness of the truly callous. Several years after reading them, I find some of these stories remain quite vividly in my mind. Taylor explores her characters with such precision that we understand them immediately – whether her characters are likeable or not – her cool observing eye is quite merciless.

The Carlyles at Home by Thea Holme

I only read this Persephone book last year – a title I had continually overlooked in favour of others. Yet it proved to a rather lovely little book, which has some delightful illustrations. Written in the 1960s, The Carlyles at Home portrays the home life of writer and philosopher Thomas Carlyle and his wife Jane, during the thirty odd years they lived at Cheyne Row in Chelsea. Thea Holme; the author, wrote it while she and her husband were living in the house as custodians. She confines herself to everyday matters in the Carlyles lives, staying well away from the nature of the Carlyles marriage for example, Thomas Carlyle’s work is mentioned almost in passing. Small domestic concerns, problems with servants, home improvements and noise from neighbours. Each of the eleven chapters focus on a different aspect of the Carlyles lives at Cheyne Row.

Ariel by Sylvia Plath

Sylvia Plath was someone I was fascinated by in my late teens. I bought this pretty little hardback edition so I could reread these poems a few years ago.

Ariel; published posthumously two years after Plath’s suicide – was her second collection of poetry – and it is deeply personal, often intimate, and frequently challenging. Her themes are those of marriage and motherhood, sexuality, depression, death and suicide. Plath’s poetry is lyrical and though often dark there is a strange luminosity to many of her images.

Friends and Heroes by Olivia Manning

Just the other day I forced my mother to buy the omnibus edition of The Balkan trilogy while browsing bookshelves in a charity shop – telling her it was so good I have read it twice. This is the third book in the Balkan trilogy – and this novel finds us in Greece – after the Pringles were forced with other ex-pats of their acquaintance to flee Bucharest. In Friends and Heroes, the peace that Guy and Harriet think they have found in Athens is destined to be short lived, and soon the war which is raging across Europe creeps ever close to their door. Again, Manning is superb at recreating the testing times in which she herself lived while abroad during the war. She writes so well.

Slaves of the Lamp by Pamela Frankau

Slaves of the Lamp is also part of a trilogy. It is the second book in Frankau’s Clothes of the King’s Son trilogy. The title; Slaves to the Lamp refers to those who take comfort in their belief in spiritualism, faith healing and other mysticisms. Faith healers and their followers form just one strand of this slightly unusual – though enjoyable – novel. In true Pamela Frankau style – the canvas here is large, set in both England and the South of France, Slaves to the Lamp follows the stories of several characters, which inevitably weave together. While this isn’t my favourite Frankau novel – it is enormously readable, and I have yet to read anything by her I haven’t enjoyed. The best thing about this novel is Thomas, such a lovable character.

A Little Love a Little Learning by Nina Bawden

I love Nina Bawden – regular readers will know that. A Little Love, A Little Learning was published more than ten years into Nina Bawden’s long publishing career – it is a great example of all she does well. She understands the dynamics and difficulties, and here she brings her knowledge of step-families to this revealing portrait, which shows just how fragile happiness can be. This is one of those novels where in a sense not a huge amount happens – and yet it remains very compelling, and perfectly told. I think Bawden is at her best when portraying middle-class families, especially children within those families.

Three more recommendations from 1965 – books I don’t have copies of it would seem.

Stoner by John Edwards Williams

Well everyone seemed to be reading this at one time. A novel which enjoyed a huge renaissance a few years ago. In my mind I categorise Williams with writers like William Maxwell – and of the two I prefer Maxwell. Stoner is a beautifully written, poignant novel, a novel about love and the disappointments dished out by life. Stoner – is the story of an unremarkable man – and yet he is a kind of hero. This is a story of love – but it is not a love story, but about the love William Stoner has for the women in his life, for literature and the university, and the great love he had for his job. Stoner’s life is just like that of most of us – we have our loves, disappointments sadnesses those daily routines that go unremarked for years and years. William Stoner enjoys some small quiet victories in his life, but after he is gone there remains little to prove that he ever lived.

A Backward Place by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala

I borrowed this book from Liz I think, and really loved it. I am reminded I haven’t read Prawer Jhabvala for ages – and there is plenty of her work I have never read. A Backward Place is a kind of comedy of manners centred on a group of westerners living alternative life-styles in Delhi. Judy an Englishwoman is married to Bal – living in a small house and courtyard with his family. Clarissa is a dishevelled artist, claiming to appreciate a simpler life, while Etta is an ageing Hungarian beauty determined to keep hold of her Parisian chic and mysterious allure. Dr and Mrs Hochstadt are a German couple on an extended though temporary visit to experience India.

The Red and the Green by Iris Murdoch

It’s eleven years since I read The Red and The Green so my memory of it is a bit shaky, so not linking to my review as it only amounts to a few sentences – though I do know I loved it. The setting is Dublin in 1916 as rebellion looms. An Anglo-Irish family provide all the main characters, the relationships between all these people are complex and frequently unorthodox.

Have you read any of these? What have you been reading for the #1965club?

Read Full Post »


You may have noticed that I rather love books by twentieth century women writers, and so it was never going to be too long before I paid a visit to The Second Shelf in London. A delightful little shop in the heart of the capital selling my kinds of books.


My friend Meg and I got the train to Euston, and from there it was a short tube ride to Leicester Square on the Northern Line, swapping to the Piccadilly Line for one stop, we got off at Piccadilly Circus and walked to the shop via Shaftesbury Avenue and Great Windmill Street. Tucked away in Smiths Court is the Second Shelf – and it is a delight. The proprietor Allison Devers who has worked so hard to get this project off the ground was so warm and welcoming, and we had a lovely chat and were permitted to take photos – I did ask first of course.

There were so many books by the kinds of writers I love, I saw Daphne Du Maurier, Anita Brooker, Nina Bawden, Margaret Atwood, Virginia Woolf and many others. It is an Aladdin’s cave of women’s literature.


Well I was always going to buy some books – and of course I did. Actually, one was purchased a few weeks ago, paid for and just picked up today. The other three – were just too hard to resist. I could have bought several others. I am so happy with these four books.


A Game of Hide and Seek – by Elizabeth Taylor – one of my favourite writers, definitely one of my top five – and A Game of Hide and Seek is probably my favourite of her novels. I have a green virago edition too, which I am keeping – I have read it twice already, and as I am planning on re-reading some of the others this is just going on my special books, bookshelf for now. It isn’t a first edition, it’s the book club edition (book club editions are cheaper obviously) but I adore the cover. I can just imagine Harriet and Vesey going into that little house.

My mothers House and Sido by Colette – I have been reminded a couple of times lately how I really need to read more Colette – and this gorgeous little book shouted out to me. A 1953, American first edition.

The Unspeakable Skipton by Pamela Hansford Johnson, I have come to really enjoy PHJ’s writing. She was pretty prolific, and I have only read about four of her novels so far. This one just sounds so interesting, and I loved the cover. It is also a first edition.

The Rain Forest by Olivia Manning – many of you will have seen my love of Olivia Manning through my reading of The Balkan and Levant trilogies (the last one of those left to read) and others of her work. This, one of her later novels is a first edition.

I am completely delighted with my beautiful purchases.


After this we went to a tiny deli next door and had a cup of tea – the food smelled amazing – but we had a table booked elsewhere where we were meeting three other friends. A lovely long lazy chatty lunch at Bill’s on Brewer Street was next on the agenda – which was rather busy and a bit chaotic at times, but the food was good, and it is great catching up with people I don’t see very often.

Before heading back to Euston Meg and I had some time to kill and so we went to the National Portrait Gallery, we spent about 45 minutes in there – and still managed to see quite a lot. The literary theme continued there with portraits of Iris Murdoch, Doris Lessing, Seamus Heaney and photographs of Edna O’Brien, Beryl Bainbridge and Nadine Gordimer among others.

A truly lovely day, with laughs and treats a plenty, I realise now, I really needed it!


Read Full Post »


One of the best things about social media is how it allows us to share our enthusiasms and discover new ones.

Over on Twitter just lately I have been very much enjoying the #NeglectedLadyNovelists tweets from writer Judith Kinghorn – and the conversations resulting from them. Now I do like a good bit of Twitter banter.

I found the World cup of #NeglectedladyNovelists particularly good fun. Several rounds and a semi-final have come and gone – with Twitter folk having to vote for who they consider the most neglected of the lady novelists in each round. Now, I have always taken my democratic responsibilities very seriously – and so I naturally thought very carefully over my choices. For women writers of a certain period – whether neglected or not – are very much my thing. It was really, really hard – and sparked a bit of debate – for instance in group 1 we had Elizabeth Taylor pitted against Anita Brookner, Jean Rhys and Rosamond Lehmann, while in group 3 the choice was between Sylvia Townsend Warner, Flora Mayor, Storm Jameson and EM Delafield, to me it seemed quite impossible to choose. In each group there were at least two writers I wanted to vote for. In all seriousness I want all these writers to enjoy a resurgence in popularity, that is why I love Persephone books and the VMC publications of the 1980 and 90s so much.

I began to wonder how people were voting – surely if we were looking for those women writers who have become truly neglected then I would have expected the likes of Flora Mayor, EH Young or May Sinclair to have made it through to the final. May Sinclair made it to the semi-finals but neither of the other two did terribly well. It’s hardly surprising that people ended up voting for writers they loved most – and I was guilty of this myself. I couldn’t help but vote for Sylvia Townsend Warner and Rosamond Lehmann as I love them so much. I do, also consider them to be rather neglected, however in truth some of their novels are still in print. Virago still publish three or four Rosamond Lehmann titles – and Selina Hastings’ biography of her is also available. VMC print on demand editions of some Sylvia Townsend Warner novels are available – as well as some NYRB editions (though why they felt it necessary to change the title of Mr Fortune’s Maggot is a mystery) – so are these writers truly neglected? Knowing all this I cast my votes – perhaps wrongly. In truth it is perhaps those writers who work is only to be found on second hand book sites, and on the shelves of (very good) second hand bookshops that are truly neglected – so in some rounds I voted with my heart and not my head. I do feel a little guilty – but at least it has got us all talking about these wonderful women writers, and that can’t be a bad thing. I didn’t vote for Elizabeth Taylor despite my great love of her writing because I can’t honestly say she is as neglected as she once was – that is definitely a good thing. How many of these writers’ works can be found in high street bookshops though is another matter – easily bought from a certain online seller perhaps – but how many times do readers get a chance to idly pick up Sylvia Townsend Warner or Rosamond Lehmann in their local branch of Waterstones I wonder?

When I start thinking about the list of #Neglectedladynovelists I would compile – it begins to get very long. Two writers I have been enjoying during this past week would definitely be on the list; Pamela Frankau and Pamela Hansford Johnson, both very good writers and excellent storytellers.

Many of the other novelists considered under that hashtag however – are exceptionally good writers, women who really did have something to say – they were not merely the tellers of good stories – although they did that too. When I consider the likes of Rebecca West, Olivia Manning, Antonia White and Winifred Holtby and others I am reminded what amazing, varied lives, they all lived. They each had so much to tell us – worlds to show us, so much to say – of course I want more people to read them.

I have wondered before how it is that some writers fall out of favour – while others endure – fashion and tastes change I suppose, and new writers come along. It is sad how many wonderful writers get forgotten during that process – when it comes to books I might sometimes be swayed by a pretty new edition, but I don’t much care about fashions. It is probably unrealistic to expect lots of these writers to be re-issued in shiny new editions – the cost for a publishing company would I suspect be prohibitive.

Still no reason why we who love these #NeglectedLadyNovelists shouldn’t continue to scour the bookshelves of second hand bookshops and celebrate our finds on our favourite social media sites. That way these wonderful voices will still be heard – at least by some of us.

Should you still want to get involved in the chat – the final of the world cup of #NeglectedLadyNovelists is at the end of the week. Make sure you are following @Judithkinghorn if you don’t want to miss it.

The original list has now been whittled down to Sylvia Townsend Warner and Jean Rhys – both truly wonderful writers – but I wonder if you can guess where my vote will be going? If neither of them take your fancy (and why wouldn’t they) who would be your choice of most NeglectedLadyNovelist?

(Incidentally, Sylvia Townsend Warner will be the Libraything Virago Group’s author of the month in December – and I am going to be re-reading Lolly Willowes as I have persuaded my very small book group to read it in December.)


Read Full Post »


I’m sure most of you know by now just how much I love Elizabeth Taylor – but I still haven’t read quite everything she wrote. I have been saving the last two volumes of short stories for quite a while – now there is only one left. The short story form, seems to have suited Elizabeth Taylor perfectly, and The Devastating Boys first published in 1972 I have seen described as her best. It is pretty much sheer perfection.

There are eleven stories in this collection – and they are all quite brilliant, though I am not going to write about each story separately – but attempt to give a flavour of the whole collection. On of things that Elizabeth Taylor can do in her short stories is to have her characters step fully formed from the pages, and the reader is immediately involved in their lives. These stories take place both at home and abroad, and concern a variety of types. We have remembrances of childhood holidays and the infatuations they bring. Loneliness and humour sit side by side throughout this delicious collection. In two of the stories there is certainly an acknowledgement of the changing face of Britain, as Elizabeth Taylor introduces us to some more diverse characters than we perhaps usually associate with her, in the title story and in Tall Boy. This later story tells the rather poignant story of Jasper; a young man, an immigrant not long arrived in England. I don’t want to say too much about that one as it could spoil it – but it is certainly one of my favourites in the collection.

“He imagined home having the same time as England. He would have felt quite lost to his loved ones if when he woke in the night, he could not be sure that they were lying in darkness too and, when his own London morning came, their also came, the sun streamed through the cracks of their hut in shanty-town, and the little girls began to chirp and skip about.” (Tall Boy)

The title story, the first one in the book, is an absolute delight, some of the language is a little old fashioned, though never offensive, it brings together two vastly different worlds. Laura and Harold are a fairly typical Taylor married couple, upper middle class, they live in a nice house within easy reach of a railway link to London, their daughters have grown up and left home. Harold came up with the idea of having disadvantaged London children to stay for a holiday. Having read of the scheme, Harold had volunteered himself and Laura (though it will be Laura who will have to entertain them) insisting that the children they take should be black. So, when summer comes, it is a nervous Laura who waits at the station for these two young London boys, Septimus Smith and Benny Reece.

“They stood on the platform, looking about them, holding their little cardboard cases.
‘My name is Laura,’ she said. She stooped and clasped them to her, and kissed their cheeks. Sep’s in particular, was extraordinarily soft, like the petal of a poppy. His big eyes stared up at her, without expression. He wore a dark long-trousered suit. So that he was all over sombre and unchildlike. Benny had a mock-suede coat with a nylon-fur collar and a trilby hat with a feather. They did not speak. Not only was she, Laura, strange to them, but they were strange to one another. There had only been a short train-journey in which to sum up their chances of becoming friends.” (The Devastating Boys)

Two weeks stretches out before them all, what will Laura do with these silent, large eyed small boys. Elizabeth Taylor writes these characters with such affection and without any of the patronising condescension that other writers of her class have been known to adopt when writing of the working classes. The Devastating Boys is a story I could read over and over – by the end – when the children must return to London – there is a definite feeling that Septimus and Benny will always be a part of Harold and Laura’s life.

In stories like Sisters – Elizabeth Taylor achieves quite a lot in just a few pages. Here we have Mrs Mason, a widow, she prides herself on her respectability. We quickly learn all we need to know, Mrs Mason is childless, attends coffee mornings in aid of worthy charities, plays bridge regularly, takes tea in a nearby tea-rooms. She is a respected figure in her English county town, and she shudders at the thought that her respectability could be threatened when a journalist appears asking questions about the sister that no one in the town knows anything about.

An annoyingly precocious child spends her summer holidays making daily visits to various houses in the story In and Out the Houses. At each house, she drops snippets of information about the other households she has visited that day. Small jealousies and pretensions are revealed, as Kitty Miller happily skips from house to house leaving tiny seeds of chaos in her wake.

Several stories take place abroad; the differences in a newly married couple becoming painfully apparent in Hôtel Du Commerce, the ending almost inevitable is nevertheless brilliant. Blowsy pub landlady Phyl; contemplates a fling while on holiday in a sunbathed Mediterranean resort, in the story Flesh. Even here, we meet a recognisable type of person, and as ever Taylor recreates them perfectly.

“For the sake of a tan, she was wasting her holiday – just to be a five minutes’ wonder in the bar on her return, the deepest brown any of them had that year.” (Flesh).

The one story which feels a bit like the odd one out (not to say it isn’t brilliant because it is) is The Fly Paper, which I have read before in another collection. It is a real spine chiller – reminding me a little of those Tales of the Unexpected that I used to watch with partial dread, occasionally, when I was in my teens. Sylvia is an eleven year old, travelling on a bus to her music lesson, it is a journey she makes regularly, but what happens to Sylvia on this particular Wednesday – really is the stuff of nightmares – and yet Taylor writes it with such exquisite subtlety.

The Devastating Boys is a truly superb collection, and one which demonstrates Elizabeth Taylor’s skill at revealing the truths within communities. Dangerous Calm is the final collection of Elizabeth Taylor stories I have to read, I want to have it to look forward to for a little while yet.


Read Full Post »


Phew! I’ve just finished typing names into a random name generator and due to the number of entries it took a while. I’m glad I didn’t have the responsibility and could leave it all to fate – and the internet.

Resh Susan who blogs at The Book Satchel wins A Wreath of Roses which will travelling all the way to India soon.

Anne P – wins a copy of A Game of Hide and seek

Mary Durant – wins a copy of In a Summer Season

Thank you everyone for entering – I’m sorry there can be only three winners. I hope the winners enjoy their books – all three are wonderful novels. Please let me know what you think once you have read them.

Once again, a big thank you to Virago Press and Little Brown books for providing these books for me to giveaway.


Read Full Post »

a dedicated man

Back in 2012 I read or re-read all Elizabeth Taylor’s novels along with other readers from the Librarything virago group for her centenary. I also read two of her five collections of short stories, saving the other three for a rainy day. I really hadn’t meant to leave it quite so long to get back to Elizabeth Taylor, one of my favourite writers, although it was nice to have these stories to look forward to. A Dedicated Man was the third of four collections published during Elizabeth Taylor’s lifetime, a fifth collection Dangerous Calm of previously unpublished pieces came out in the 1990’s.

Elizabeth Taylor is a superb short story writer, she observes her characters with a cool and practised eye, highlighting their absurdities, snobberies and everyday concerns.

Reviewing short stories is always a challenge I find, I almost always end up saying either too much or too little (generally the former), when all that’s wanted is a slight flavour. Therefore, I am not going to talk about each story – but pick out a few key pieces for particular attention.

Elizabeth Taylor shows us many sides of English middle class life, a world she understood from the inside. In this collection of twelve stories we meet both the middle aged and young, at home and abroad. In these stories Elizabeth Taylor considers the relationships between mothers and daughters, and husbands and wives, between neighbours and that terrifying creature the Englishman/woman abroad. We meet a kept woman marooned in the upstairs of her home when the Thames is in Flood, an elderly woman, ignored, laughed at by her neighbours, befriends a young boy, and we meet Silcox, the dedicated man of the title as he manipulates his way into his dream job.

In the opening story; Girl Reading, we meet fifteen-year-old Etta, staying with her best friend’s family, during school holidays. Etta lives in a small dark terrace house with her single, working mother when not away at school. Her friend Sarah is part of a bigger, livelier family, their larger much smarter home is often filled with interesting guests. It is a world to which Etta desires more than anything to belong. Her mother is suspicious of this family, where it is obvious her daughter enjoys going, and so Etta is a little alarmed when her mother makes an unscheduled appearance during her latest visit.

“Mrs Salkeld had contrived the visit because she wanted to understand and hope to approve of her daughter’s friends. Seeing the lawns, the light reflected from the water. Later this large, bright room, and the beautiful poppy-seed cake the Hungarian cook had made for tea, she understood completely and felt pained. She could see then, with Etta’s eyes, their own dark, narrow house, and she thought of the lonely hours she spent there reading on days of imprisoning rain.”
(from Girl Reading)

In the title story A Dedicated man, Silcox, a waiter at a seaside hotel persuades his junior waitress colleague Edith to masquerade as his wife, in order that they can swap their positions at a tawdry holiday hotel for the Royal George Hotel in the home counties, well away from the sea. The two must learn how to live modestly together in the room provided to a married couple. Knowing little about each other, and living uncomfortably closely, all for the sake of a job which better suits their snobby pretensions . Silcox and Edith had resented waiting on loud mouthed, sunburned holiday makers in their indecent holiday clothing.

“In Edith’s new life there were one or two difficulties – one was trying to remember not to fidget with the wedding ring as if she were not used to wearing it, the another was being obliged to call Silcox ‘Maurice’. This she thought unseemly, like all familiarities, and to be constant in it required continual vigilance. He. Being her superior, had called her Edith from the start.”
(from A Dedicated Man)

In As if I Should Care we meet probably the least likeable character in the whole collection, and yet Rita is brilliantly drawn in all her unpleasant selfishness. A young girl of older parents, Rita learned a secret about her birth, some years earlier, which she has kept to herself and brooded on ever since. Over the years, Rita’s resentment towards her parents, and grandmother at home has grown. Now working at a hair salon, she spends her money sending off for suede jackets, goes out to dances, and fantasises about going to Canada. At home her father lies ill in his bedroom upstairs, Rita is aware that her mother has not revealed to him the seriousness of his illness. With shocking callousness and unconcern, Rita finds a way to use this to her own advantage.

Two stories, The Voices and In the Sun depict the English on holiday abroad. In the first story, Laura alone in her hotel room listens to the voices of the two women in the room next door. Through the snatches of their conversation she lives their holiday vicariously, comparing it to her own rather unfulfilled experience. In the next story, In the Sun,two couples, the Troughtons and the Crouches meet on holiday in the sun, swap stories and embark on that kind of temporary holiday acquaintance which will end with the holiday itself. Deirdre and Bunny Wallace; a third couple arrive and become the focus of speculation by the first two couples. Their observations and surmises are based solely on their own prejudices and snobberies. Deirdre is similarly taken to passing judgement on her fellow guests.

“People come out here,’ said Deirdre, glaring at the bodies about her, ‘and bake themselves all day, only glad if they can go back home the colour that they punish other people for being.”
‘So true’ said Bunny.
Without discussing where they should sit, they moved apart from the others and spread towels out on the sand. Bunny removed his hat and shirt, and went trotting down to the sea, his crooked arms jerking back and forth like a long-distance runner’s.”
(from In the Sun)

Such brilliantly astute observations like this of how people behave in different situations, for me show Elizabeth Taylor’s genius. She allows her reader to develop their own relationship with the characters and story, in the way she stands slightly removed from them. These stories are simply brilliant, compulsively readable and make me want to re-read all those exceptional novels again. Before I do though, there are two more volumes of stories I have yet to read.


Read Full Post »


During 2012 I have read all twelve Elizabeth Taylor novels and two volumes of short stories, this was due to the Librarything Virago group’s readalong of all Elizabeth Taylor’s novels for her centenary year. This wonderful reading event was hosted overall by Laura, who did a fantastic job of enthusing and organising us all. As the end of the year approaches I have been reflecting on a wonderful reading event. Several of the novels were re-reads and I enjoyed reading those just as much as those books I was reading for the first time. Each month we read a different Elizabeth Taylor novel, reading in the order of publication, with each book hosted by a different blogger or guest blogger across a variety of wonderful book blogs.

taylor novels
In January we read At Mrs. Lippincote’s (1945) – although as I had only read it a year before – I didn’t re-read it until a few weeks ago. A very autobiographical novel, I found I liked Julia more on a second reading.
In February Palladian (1946) which Elizabeth Taylor pays homage to the works of the Brontes, Jane Austen and Daphne Du Maurier in her unusual story of Cassandra who goes to work for a reclusive widower in a peculiar household. This novel was particularly memorable for me, due to one particular scene, which is devastatingly dramatic but written with such brilliant subtlety, that it made me gasp.
In March it was A View of the Harbour (1947) I loved the setting of this novel, and some of the minor characters remain as memorable for me as the major ones. Particularly Mrs Bracey – (I thought her very Austenesque) who watches her narrow world from her window, judging everyone who passes by.
In April we read A Wreath of Roses (1949) another re-read for me, which contains my favourite opening sentence or two I think of all Elizabeth Taylor’s novels, it was just so beautifully atmospheric, and so wonderfully Elizabeth Taylor.
In May we read many people’s favourite Elizabeth Taylor novel A Game of Hide and Seek (1951) another very autobiographical novel, it is chiefly about adultery. However there are some wonderful child characters, and it is deeply moving. It certainly is now my favourite, and I am looking forward to re-reading it one day.
In June we read The Sleeping Beauty (1953) Another novel set in a seaside town which contains some marvellous self-righteous middle aged women, more evidence of how brilliantly Taylor writes her minor characters, making them as fully fleshed out and memorable as her central characters.
In July it was Angel (1957) considered by many her most brilliant novel, the second time I had read this one too, and though it will never be my favourite Taylor, it is a fascinating piece of writing. Elizabeth Taylor’s one historically set novel, her monstrous creation, Angellica Deverell is truly unforgettable, yet at the end despite her monstrosity she becomes almost sympathetic.
In August we read In a Summer Season (1961) another re-read for me, which had previously been my favourite before being eclipsed by A Game of Hide and Seek. It is a beautifully sensual work, it sizzles subtly with the scorching summer in which it is set, and is still one of my favourites.
In September, it was my turn to host with The Soul of Kindness (1964) I really enjoyed this novel, In Flora we have another monstrous creation, although she is a quieter monster her effect is still as devastating.
In October we read The Wedding Group (1968) which is probably my least favourite Taylor, though it is fascinating – and felt really quite Murdochian to me, it has an odd artistic community which is based upon a household Elizabeth Taylor herself spent time in.
In November we read Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont (1971) A second reading of this for me again, and I had enjoyed it hugely the first time around, but this time, loved it even more, and was terribly moved by this honest portrayal of a woman growing old in a hotel where elderly people go to live – but “aren’t allowed to die there” – it has become another firm favourite.
In December we read Blaming (1976) another re-read for me. Blaming was in fact the first ever Elizabeth Taylor novel I read, and I enjoyed re-revisiting it, published after her death, it shows Elizabeth Taylor was still at her writing best when she wrote this novel, knowing full well that she was dying. It also contains some marvellous child characters.
Back in April my friend Liz and I went to Reading for the day, to attend a Elizabeth Taylor day at Reading Library. We met up with a few friends from the librarything Virago group, and indulged our love of Elizabeth Taylor fully. There were some wonderful speakers, and discussion groups and the day became one of the highlights of my year.
Elizabeth Taylor was in fact a wonderful short story writer too, and luckily for her fans published five volumes of short stories (four during her lifetime)
Hester Lilly (1954)
The Blush and Other Stories (1958)
A Dedicated Man and Other Stories (1965)
The Devastating Boys (1972)
Dangerous Calm (1995)
During 2012 I read The Blush and Hester Lilly and was delighted to be sent Virago’s latest edition of Elizabeth Taylor’s complete short stories in the summer. I would heartily recommend it to anyone; Elizabeth Taylor was in my opinion a masterly short story writer – which is why I have left some of the stories to read in 2013.
It has been a fantastic year for fans of Elizabeth Taylor and I am going to miss her terribly. We do have Barbara Pym to look forward to – and I hope she manages to fill the void left by Elizabeth – we will see.

I hope I (along with many other entusiasts)  have encouraged other people to try Elizabeth Taylor – it is amazing to me that there are people who haven’t heard of Elizabeth Taylor – the Engish novelist.

Read Full Post »


The final novel in the Librarything Virago group’s yearlong centenary readalong, it has been a fantastic reading event. Pop over to Laura’s blog to read Libraything member Dee’s post about what we have read and what we all thought.
Blaming was Elizabeth Taylor’s final novel written in something of a hurry during her final illness, when she knew that she was dying. It is a novel much more character driven than plot driven – as I think is much, if not all of her work. It is a novel about guilt, bereavement and blame.
Amy is a very recognisable Elizabeth Taylor character. Middle aged, middle class, she is often reserved, holding back her thoughts and feelings, taking little interest in people around her. While on holiday aboard ship with her husband Nick, Amy is suddenly widowed, left stranded and bewildered in a foreign country. Incapacitated by grief Amy is befriended by Martha an American writer, a little odd and certainly the type of woman who Amy would generally have had little time for. However Martha takes charge of Amy, accompanying her back to England, even though it means cutting her own holiday short. Once home, Martha proves rather difficult to shake off. Amy is surrounded by people, her son James and his wife Maggie with their two “little girls” the superb Isobel and Dora (brilliant child characters again from Elizabeth Taylor – she knew children so absolutely. Ernie Pounce a kind of male housekeeper who with his new false teeth and slight hypochondria loves nothing more than to fuss around after “madam,” and Gavin, physician and dear old friend, the widower of her one time best friend, calls in regularly. Amy feels no need of Martha, but feels guilty after the care Martha took of her, and allows Martha to visit. However it appears that Martha has some need of Amy, she is a rather lonely figure, happy to push herself forward, inviting herself to Amy’s house, questioning Amy and Ernie about their lives with no embarrassment – seemingly unaware of any awkwardness. Martha soon becomes a regular part of Amy’s life, and Amy finds she has rather less need of James and Maggie, much to their obvious relief. However when a vulnerable Martha herself is in need of support – she is tragically let down by Amy.
Often in Elizabeth Taylor’s novels, it is the peripheral characters that provide the humour that she injects so beautifully even into her more poignant works. In Blaming the gentle humour is provided by Ernie, and Amy’s grandchildren, the “little girls”

“To the children, first thing next morning, Maggie said, “I’m afraid dear Grandpa has died.”
“And gone to heaven,” Isobel said, as if her mother had left something out.
Maggie slightly inclined her head, not to be caught telling a lie by the God she did not believe in.
“And-Gone-To-Heaven” Isobel shouted, standing up, outraged, in her little bed.
“Yes of course.”
“Not everyone goes to heaven,” Dora, who was older said, “Egyptian mummies didn’t go. Or stuffed fishes.”
“No fishes never go,” Isobel agreed “sometimes I eat them. Chickens can’t go nor”
“I don’t really know about heaven,” Dora said in her considered way. “We haven’t done that at school yet. But I know they must go somewhere, or we’d be full up here. People coming and going all the time”

Published after her death this novel brings to a close the work of a remarkable writer; it seems a fitting note to end on. There is an obvious reflective poignancy to this novel, in her brilliantly understated way Elizabeth Taylor draws a discreet veil over her own work. In the afterword to my edition Joanna Kingham writes very movingly about her mother’s battle to finish this novel and the true story behind one of the incidents involving the children.
Incidentally did anyone else notice the marvellous homage to Jane Austen in the scene between James and Maggie at the beginning of Chapter 5? As soon as I read it this time (I know I missed it the first time I read Blaming) I thought ‘oh that’s just like in Sense and Sensibility!’ – And sure enough Jonathan Keates in the introduction to my edition (I read introductions after the novel) draws attention to the very same thing.


Read Full Post »

Older Posts »