The Sleeping Beauty: Book Chat, Week Two

Welcome to week two of this month’s Elizabeth Taylor readalong of her sixth novel, The Sleeping Beauty.  Has anyone finished the book yet?  Have you just started?  Or is it still sitting on your TBR?

Last week we talked about the women in this novel.  Now it’s the guys’ turn.  As before, this discussion will be spoiler-free.  We’ll let loose a bit next week, OK?

Let’s start with our leading man, Vinny Tumulty.  The first thing I had to get over was that Vinny was fifty-ish.  Not that there’s anything wrong with that (happens to be the same age as me), but I thought it an interesting choice.  Most romantic novels feature a younger, more dashing chap, so this came as a bit of a surprise.  And he didn’t strike me as particularly dashing, either.  Just a regular guy living a regular life, and sufficiently clueless to not have learned from his mistakes:

Nearing fifty, Vinny felt more than ever the sweet disappointments only a romantic knows, whose very desires invite frustration; … Past and future to him were the realities; the present dull, meaningless, only significant if, as now, going back along the sands, he could say to himself: ‘Later on, I shall remember.’ To link his favourite tenses in such a phrase was to him the exhalation of romance, and the fact that such phrases had preceded all his disappointments, heralded all the counterfeit and treachery he had worked or suffered, could not detract from its magic. He disdained to learn from so drab a teacher as Experience. (p.22)

And let’s just say he didn’t strike me as a cad.  But he was.

Laurence, Isabella’s son, is in his twenties and doing his military service.  He’s a dutiful son, visiting his mother often.  He also harbors considerable guilt over his father’s death, since he was present and allegedly could have prevented it.  I found Laurence much more interesting than Vinny, especially when he fell for the nurse, Betty (that’s not really a spoiler, I promise).  He was inexperienced but endearing.

These two men figure most prominently in the story, but there are other minor characters.  Laurence’s friend Len, for example, who comes home with Laurence on a short leave.  Laurence so wants to impress him, but is a bit put off when Len ingratiated himself to Isabella.

Lindsay Tillotson is a lodger in Rose’s guest house, and is largely invisible except for this exquisite comedic bit — just the sort of thing I love about Elizabeth Taylor’s writing:

Lindsay Tillotson appeared, yawning, at his bed-room window. He felt rather enervated, having spent the afternoon making love to his wife and then reading the Manchester Guardian while she slept. The evening loomed before him. He told himself that it would soon be over: then he saw that tomorrow loomed, too, and — such was his mood — all the days of his life. (p. 134)

And finally, there are the dead husbands: both Isabella and Rose are widows whose husbands who died tragically.  We never meet these men, but they are always present, their deaths having had such a profound impact on the women.

What did you think of the men in The Sleeping Beauty?

Next week: I hope to publish a full review of this novel.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ REMINDER ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

On July 2, I will be hosting a giveaway. Thanks to the generous team at Virago Press, one lucky person will receive a copy of Elizabeth Taylor’s Complete Short Stories. This new volume will be published June 21, and includes 65 stories with a beautiful cover. More details here.

Be sure to stop by on July 2 to enter the drawing!


6 thoughts on “The Sleeping Beauty: Book Chat, Week Two

  1. Arghhh…I can’t peek, Laura! I am only at about the midway point in this book but the minute it is finished I will check back.

    The short story collection is one I have been waiting on for quite some time and have an order in with TBD. Lovely of Virago to offer up a copy!

  2. Certainly this book stands out from the other Elizabeth Taylors I have read by having a male lead character. I suppose Vinny is a cad but I didn’t really think of him as one – I felt a great deal of sympathy for him. He’s obviously been as repressed as the female characters are and has got nothing from the women in his life up until the time he meets Emily (ahem – trying not to give too much away here). His mother in particular is a dominating handful and without wishing to stereotype him, if you met him in real life you might suspect he wasn’t keen on women in a romantic way. So the fact that he is hit, whammy, in middle age by his first real passion does, I feel, excuse the way he behaves.

    He is a complex character and surprisingly strong-willed when it comes to getting what he wants i.e. Emily. Can’t remember the exact quote but when Emily says about Vinny making her what she is with his love, it’s spot on. I was relieved by the resolution and I feel he doesn’t deserve too harsh treatment.

    Laurence is also interesting – the circumstances of his behaviour at the time of his father’s death are not really made that much of (in a typically Taylorian way) but perhaps are pivotal to his somewhat sullen behaviour in much of the book. He certainly blossoms a little as it goes on (is love – hitting Vinny and Laurence during the story) going to make men of them? I hope so! His relationship with Isabella his mother is well portrayed and it’s interesting how his attitude changes after he sees her and Len together.

    The Tillotson family intrigued me and they too would have merited a story of their own. But I think the quote you give sums up Taylor’s genius of telling you all you need to know about a character in a few lines.

    • Very insightful comments, kaggsy. And of course you are correct about Vinny’s complexity. He didn’t really come across as a cad in the classic, obvious sense but I kept saying to myself, “what are you thinking, man?!” I hadn’t thought much about his repression and Mrs Tumulty’s domineering nature. What a toxic combination! You’ve given me much to think about!

  3. She really does seem to be pushing the proverbial envelope in choosing such an unlikely “hero”; I’m quite intrigued. (I’m still eyeing the book from a distance. I don’t seem to be moving more than 20 pages at a go in anything at all these days: all good books, but too much other stuff demanding time, so I’ve only finished one novel this month so far. Which means 8 between me and TSB, I think.)

    • I hope you get to the book soon, BIP. I can relate to the short attention span thing though — I’m hardly getting any reading done this month, and am very glad I read this novel early.

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