Elizabeth Taylor’s Centenary Year: What We Read and What We Thought

I’m pleased to welcome Dee again this Sunday, with the second in a series of posts about our Elizabeth Taylor Centenary.  Take it away, Dee!


So now that we’re nearly at the end of our year of celebrating the other Elizabeth Taylor, have your feelings about her changed? Is she your new favourite author, or were you a fan already? Or perhaps the reads left you cold and you gave up on them and Taylor several months ago! It would be great if we could share here, our thoughts on what the Centenary year meant for us. I, for one, would love to know which shared reads you all took part in and which were your favourites.

But first:  a giveaway!

Leave a comment on this post.  One comment will be chosen at random to receive a 1987 Virago green copy of one of my favourite Taylors, A View of The Harbour (the one with the Lyme Regis cover, pictured). I realise that many of you will already have a copy but do feel free to claim it and pass it on to someone you think would appreciate it.

Now, without further ado, here’s a reminder of the Taylors we read in 2012:

Most of us felt in good hands from the very beginning when we read At Mrs Lippincote’s in January. Libro’s Liz described Taylor’s first novel as “self-assured and polished”. Stuck-in-a-Book Simon found the book to be “thoughtful, clever and perceptive” and also “often very witty.”

Not everyone was won over though. The Captive Reader had tried Taylor unsuccessfully in the past and still wasn’t quite sure how she felt about her. Claire says:  “I am definitely intrigued by Taylor’s style – I find her sharp wit and precise decisions very appealing – but I was unimpressed by her handling of the characters and plot. For a relatively short book, there just seemed to be too much pointless activity and too many extraneous characters.”

Palladian in February left us debating whether we were reading a satire or not. We concluded that the book felt (as LibraryThing member souloftherose put it) “more than ‘just’ a satire or parody” and buriedinprint pointed out that “Palladian never crosses the line into caricature”.  We found much to enjoy in Palladian and had fun teasing out the literary references. However, some felt it was obviously an early work. LT’s Sibyx wrote that it was “a bumpy read, an uncomfortable and imperfect book by a very talented writer finding her way” but “still worth reading”.

In March our appreciation of Taylor grew and A View of The Harbour emerged as a possible favourite. KatieKrug’s LT review reads:

Taylor’s detailing of the everyday, of the misunderstandings, missed opportunities and missing pieces of the puzzle, is razor sharp and illuminative. The writing is clear and beautiful.

Host of the month, Simon got to the heart of Taylor’s writing with this passage:

Taylor describes cause and effect, but leaves a gap between them which could only be filled after intimacy with the characters involved. Familiarity between characters, especially within family units, leads to a sort of shorthand of reactions, where emotions are seldom spoken, and actions considered but endlessly deferred: these emotions and potential actions are either understood intuitively by the observers of the novel, or…missed completely by the oblivious.

In April, we continued to admire Taylor’s writing and found the atmosphere of A Wreath of Roses particularly evocative. Laura noted the “sense of foreboding” that fills the novel. It was a favourite for some of us but others found Richard an unrealistic character, seemingly included to add some non-Taylor like, classic suspense.  LT member romain, who describes herself as “generally a huge Taylor fan” found this one, “long-winded, boring and completely unrealistic”. LT’s Liz1564 would have liked to read more about the more credible characters and thought the whole “stic” with Richard was “fake”.

In May, we speculated about whether A Game of Hide and Seek actually was Taylor’s best novel, as apparently claimed by author and publisher, Nicola Beauman. Kaggsy thought it was the favourite of the three she’d read so far and found herself “caring much more about the fate of the characters than in previous books”. Criggall agreed that it was “her best, or one of her best” and “dense…with what we would now think of as perod detail”.  However, LT’s Kcdavis,  gave up on the book saying, “This is the first Elizabeth Taylor that has been a slog for me… frankly I’m just finding it rather dull.”  Others loved it for its emotional impact. Booksnob described the book as “absolutely heart-breaking, gut-wrenching stuff”.

The Sleeping Beauty in June was described by FleurFisher as not a favourite, “but still a lovely book: beautifully written” and this seemed the opinion of most of us.  Laura and Kaggsy discussed Taylor’s wonderful “bombshell” moments, of which The Sleeping Beauty has some great examples. For example, when Vesey sits quietly writing his wife a postcard, leaving the reader shocked that he has a wife!

In July we were entertained by Angel, a woman who is almost, but not quite, a monster. Equally entertaining was the ensuing discussion started on host Luvvie’s blog on ‘purveyors of twaddle’ and which purveyors or authors of twaddle, we personally indulged in! Angel, itself, was generally considered to be not an absolute favourite but darkly enjoyable. Libro’s Liz memorably compared the book to a “bag of cherry sours”.

In a Summer Season divided opinion in August. Heaven-Ali, Kaggsy and LT’s Sakerfalcon thought it a possible favourite. LT’s Crigall, however, was disappointed, finding the ending “contrived …and unconvincing”.  LT’s Rainpebble said, “It took me some pages to get into this one but I ended up loving it a great deal.”

In September, The Soul of Kindness was enjoyed by host of the month, Heaven-Ali who described the “subtlety of the writing” as “masterly”. Others, however, found something lacking.  Kaggsy thought the characters were “not entirely convincing and actually quite irritating.” Laura found lots to admire but said she would have preferred “a deeper storyline to go with the characterizations.” She summed the book up as: “a novel with an empty heart and marvellous, rich minor characters”.

The Wedding Group in October was another which was thought not to be Taylor’s best but which still had much to recommend it. Laura said, “I didn’t enjoy this as much as some of her earlier ones, but if you’re a Taylor fan you can’t help but like it.”  There was a feeling, in Sibyx’s words, “that the story seems to simply do a fade out”. However despite her reservations, Sibyx noticed a strength in the book that she hadn’t found in the earlier Palladian and wrote “inevitably when one begins to look underneath the surface of a Taylor book, the structure, neat and careful and strong does emerge.”

In November, Mrs Palfrey broke all our hearts and the book was thought to have a more personal and obviously compassionate tone than Taylor’s other works.  Sakerfalcon found it “poignant without being depressing and a fascinating look at aging as seen from both within and without” and Roses Over A Cottage Door’s Darlene said it made her laugh and cry. The book also led to an interesting discussion on host Verity’s blog, about older characters in literature.

And now we’ve reached the end of the year and Taylor’s final novel, Blaming. There will be more on Blaming next week. This week, I would love to know your final thoughts on the Elizabeth Taylor Centenary year and what it meant to you.  Don’t forget, every comment is entered into the giveaway!


22 thoughts on “Elizabeth Taylor’s Centenary Year: What We Read and What We Thought

  1. Great giveaway Dee. I don’t have A View of the Harbour in “green” one of the three ET novels that I own which are not, so I would love to win a green copy. I adored the setting of A View of the Harbour and as it is one I have only read once I will certainly re-read it one day.
    My stand out favourite now I have read them all (I am halfway into my re-read of Blaming) is A Game of Hide and Seek, followed by A Wreath of Roses, In a Summer Season and Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont, although there is not a sentence in any of them that I haven’t loved. My least favourite was possibly The Wedding Group, although that too I will re-read one day – and who knows may be converted.
    I have loved this centenary year – one of the best days of 2012 was the one I spent in Reading with you Dee and others from the Librarything Virago group, discussing Elizabeth Taylor and her work, and listening to the memories of her by her children and friends. I may write my own short blog post about this centenary year nearer the end of the year. I shall miss Elizabeth Taylor next year, although I have saved some of her short stories to read then.

  2. This has all been really interesting — I haven’t reviewed many of the novels, partly because I’d read them before, but it’s been fascinating and informative to see others’ reactions. I didn’t particularly like A Game of Hide and Seek, but I think At Mrs Lippincotes has to be one of my favourites. But honestly, I love everything Taylor wrote, including her amazing short stories, now available from Virago and highly recommended. Many thanks for hosting this great idea!

  3. Pam, I think you’ll like her when you get to her although she can be an acquired taste. You’re first on the list of possible recipients of The View of The Harbour!

    Hello, Ali. I loved that day in Reading too. I would have mentioned it in the post but ran out of room. It was wonderful meeting you and the others, discussing a much loved and often neglected author, walking round Reading in the rain with Taylor’s daughter Jo and others and having the first of the Cazalet Chronicles signed by Elizabeth Jane Howard. I’d only just read Howard’s autobiography at the time so I had that odd feeling that I knew her really well!

    Harriet, I’d like to echo your thanks to Laura for hosting this Centenary year too.

  4. What a lovely summary Dee – and as I also don’t have a green cover version of Harbour I would like to be entered!

    I’m still playing catch-up with Mrs. Palfrey and Blaming to read – but I have to say that I’ve enjoyed the celebration very much this year, particularly as I hadn’t ever read any ET before joining the LT Virago group earlier in the year. I’m so pleased that I finally discovered this wonderful and much-neglected author. It’s been great fun and may I add my thanks to Laura as well for being such a wonderful host!

  5. What a great idea to devote your reading to one author! I forgot that Elizabeth Taylor wrote Mrs. Palfrey, one of my favorites. I would love to win another Taylor novel.

  6. I’ve been following this reading for about six months now, eagerly adding Taylor titles to my reading list. (My 2012 list, unfortunately, was closed due to volume to meet a number of reading challenges.)

    I hope I will read one (or more) of Taylor’s books early on in 2013. If A View of the Harbour is a possible favourite, then that would be a great place to start.

    Thanks for the chance to win!

  7. I would love a copy of this. Put me in for a chance. Palladian is the only E. Taylor book that I have read so far.

  8. I haven’t done very well this year as far as reading the novels goes but I have read several of them in the past. New for me this time round was At Mrs Lippincote’s and The Soul of Kindness, both of which I liked, and I have Blaming ready to start. I don’t have a copy of A View of the Harbour – the library supplied one for me when I read it many years ago. I’d love to get a complete set in Virago.

  9. Hi Dee – thanks for the summary. I did not comment much during the year as I read most of my Taylors in the 80’s and 90’s, but I followed other people’s comments with interest. Mrs. Lippincote and The Soul of Kindness remain my absolute favorites – reading is so subjective and personal isn’t it? And I also don’t own a green copy of Harbour 🙂

  10. I’ve never tried devoting an entire year to one author. I have a few authors that I’m trying to read the “entire” works of, but I spread it out a lot. I need variety. But I can see it’s much more efficient just to FOCUS. 🙂

    My Sunday Salon

  11. Fine summary, Dee. I don’t have all of Taylor’s books but I read the four novels I have and have two more books of short stories I plan to read this last month. The only one I had previously read was Mrs. P. Taylor’s scope is so much wider.

    And I can’t help but say ‘angelically’ that I thought you did a splendid job choosing quotes from the threads.

  12. Great summary Dee!

    I hadn’t read an Elizabeth Taylor novel before this year and although I didn’t manage to read one every month I really enjoyed the ones I did read and intend to fill in the gaps next year. She’s definitely gone on my favourite authors list.

  13. I have to say that after reading Blaming it has become my new favorite of E.T.’s. I thought it was a 5+ read. But I loved all but one as I read them, finding a few faults as I went through but Taylor’s writing is always so impeccable as to overcome any and all. At Mrs. Lippincote’s was the only one that I did not fall in love with. I only gave it 2 stars where the others all scored 4 or 5 with me.
    I must say that I have loved this year of reading one author and hope that we may continue this as a Virago tradition. I have enjoyed everyone’s posts on each book as we have journeyed through and found it very interesting how many of us had like takes on some of the books.
    Very nice summary of our E.T. reads Soup. Thank you and thank you Laura for your time and diligence. You are appreciated.
    On to Barbara Pym.

  14. I’ve said this on previous posts, but I haven’t read any Elizabeth Taylor, and before I began to chat with Laura, I had no idea that there even was an Elizabeth Taylor who was an author! It sounds like I need to check out some of her novels, though!!!

  15. What a beautiful book cover! I would love a chance to win. I need to read an Elizabeth Taylor book in 2013. I only learned of her this year via Laura and will most certainly make room for her in the months to come.

  16. Thanks for your thoughts everyone. It’s great that so many of you got so much from the Centenary Year celebrations and that others are now considering Elizabeth Taylor when you hadn’t before.

    I will be using a random number generator to select a winner for A View of the Harbour on Wednesday and posting the results with next Sunday’s post on bereavement and blame in Taylor’s last novel, Blaming (not as bleak as it sounds, honestly)!

    Thanks again to Laura for kindly lending me some of her blogspace and for organising the Centenary events so perfectly!

  17. Thank you for all of the kind comments regarding the centenary year. It’s been great fun organizing it, and I’m delighted that so many of you have discovered Elizabeth Taylor because of it. That was the ultimate objective. 🙂

  18. This second time of reading Angel made me see her as less odious than the first time I read it. She is unlikeable though, but also ultimately a very character, rather pitiful. On the sunject of reviews – I like book bloggers reviews – and those from Librarything and Goodreads. I do often read reviews on Amazon too – though I sometimes find them less helpful. I always listen to friends recommendations though.

  19. I missed this round-up the first time, for some reason – lovely re-cap of the year! Thanks so much for running it. I’m sorry I only managed to join in with a couple of them, but I did think that A Century of Books might hamper me a bit.

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