Review: A Game of Hide and Seek, by Elizabeth Taylor

Harriet and Vesey grew up together as playmates and friends.  One summer while caring for Vesey’s cousins, they realize their affection has blossomed into something more:

‘I cannot put down what happened this evening,’ she wrote mysteriously. ‘Nor is there any need, for I shall remember all my life.’ And, although she was so mysterious, she was right. Much in those diaries would puzzle her when she turned their pages in middle age, old age; many allusions would be meaningless; week after week would seem to have been wiped away; but that one entry, so proudly cryptic, would always evoke the evening in the woods, the shadows, the layers of leaves shutting out the sky, the bronze mosses at the of the trees, the floating sound their voices had, and that explosive, echoing cry of the cuckoo. (p.21-22)

But Vesey goes off to Oxford and Harriet remains at home.  She picks up tidbits of news from his aunt and uncle, but they lose touch and eventually Harriet makes her own way.   She finds a job in a gown shop, marries Charles, a respected business man, and they have a daughter, Betsy.  Harriet thinks of Vesey often, but for the most part she is a reasonably happy wife and mother.

Until one day, nearly 20 years later, when Harriet and Vesey run into each other at a dance.  Dancing with Vesey, Harriet is overcome with memories and emotion. They do not see each other often — Vesey is in the theatre, and travels around the country — but they exchange letters and find reasons to meet anytime he is nearby.  Charles feels Harriet’s distance, but can neither draw her out nor express his own feelings.  The strain rubs off on Betsy, too.  Even though Harriet sees how differently people respond to her, she desperately wants to believe they’re fine.  It’s just her, responding differently to them.

Taylor’s writing is exquisite.  The story unfolds very slowly, with the rich observational detail Taylor is known for.  And it’s emotionally intense as well. In the first part, the reader feels the pain of young love — we want Harriet and Vesey to accept the love they feel for each other, and live happily ever after.  We feel pain in the awkwardness of their parting, and the pain returns when they meet again in middle age.  By that time, I had come to appreciate her marriage to Charles.  I was caught up in Harriet’s dilemma, simultaneously wishing for things that might have been, and wanting to maintain the comfort and security of her family life.  The ending is ambiguous, and yet felt completely right.

In her biography, The Other Elizabeth Taylor, Nicola Beauman called this “Elizabeth’s most flawless, most nearly perfect novel.”   I couldn’t agree more.


11 thoughts on “Review: A Game of Hide and Seek, by Elizabeth Taylor

  1. Oh my, I absolutely loved the ending: I thought it was just p-e-r-f-e-c-t. It made me want to re-read immediately, just to see if I could spot clues to see how she intended it.

    • BIP, I agree! Usually I want things all neat and tidy but this just “worked,” and I thought it was a fantastic way to end it.

  2. Just bought my first Elizabeth Taylor novel following one of your earlier recommendations. Planning on taking it with me on my next business trip….hoping its as good as you indicated.Maybe you’ll be building quite a fan club as a result

    • Karen, I always feel a bit of pressure when I recommend a book or author so highly — I hope you enjoy your first Taylor! Which of her books did you buy?

  3. I’m always thrilled to see Elizabeth Taylor popping up on book blogs! Most people don’t realize there’s “another” ET, not the actress, who wrote such wonderful books. Seems like she’s getting a lot more attention lately, though, which is a wonderful thing.

    • Lisa, you’re right that Elizabeth Taylor is not as well know as she should be. Are you aware 2012 marks the centenary of her birth? That’s one reason she’s popping up on book blogs now. If you’re not aware of the monthly readalongs taking place this year, you may want to check out the Elizabeth Taylor Centenary page on this blog. Hope you’ll join the fun!

      • Laura, that explains a lot! I’ve been so busy I missed this entirely. I see that June’s book is The Sleeping Beauty. I bought a Kindle copy, since I couldn’t find one in print. I’ll try to contribute as I’m able, even with an overloaded reading/writing/reviewing schedule. Sounds like fun! I’m overdue to read one of her books. Thanks for telling me about this!

Comments are closed.