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!