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.

The Sunday Salon: Elizabeth Taylor Centenary Going Strong

Four months into the 2012 Elizabeth Taylor Centenary, and we’re going strong.  The monthly readalongs have been so much fun. LibraryThing readers chat away, as we do, on Talk threads dedicated to each book.  And here in blog-land, our monthly hosts are doing a fine job promoting the Centenary, stimulating discussion, and generally raising interest in Taylor’s work.

In February, Rachel @ Booksnob introduced us to Palladian, Taylor’s second novel, describing it as “an intriguing, beautifully written and incredibly clever novel that explores the nature of grief, self destruction, self deception …, dissatisfaction and disappointment, and also of hope.”  Then in March, Simon @ Stuck In a Book wrote about A View of the Harbour, “I think the central division between characters is whether they are observant or oblivious.  Neither ‘type’ takes much action as a result of their knowledge, but some seek this knowledge as though it were their lifeblood; others do not even consider its existence.”  Many readers felt this was their favorite Taylor novel so far.

But it’s only April, and there’s much more to come!  This month we’re reading A Wreath of Roses, and the lovely FleurFisher has already published a post describing how A Wreath of Roses made her fall in love with Taylor’s writing.  This Friday, April 20, she will return with more discussion, and a giveaway!  This is the first of a few giveaways planned for our year-long celebration.  Excited?  You should be!

Our hosts aren’t the only ones reviewing the monthly reads, either.  My Elizabeth Taylor Centenary page is chock-a-block with links to reviews.  And it’s not too late to get involved — blog hosts are still needed for August (In a Summer Season) and December (Blaming).  Use the contact form if you’d like to host a readalong.  And finally, if all this has whetted your appetite for Virago Modern Classics, visit the  Virago Modern Classics Readers Facebook page and join over 90 other fans.  You’ll be glad you did!

Have a wonderful Sunday, everyone.

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Review: The Other Elizabeth Taylor, by Nicola Beauman

The Elizabeth Taylor in this biography was a British novelist (1912-1975).  Although she was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize (for Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont), to the average reader she is a complete unknown.  I discovered her work through Virago Modern Classics, and she quickly became a favorite author.  So this year, to celebrate the centenary of her birth, I thought I’d learn more about the life of this talented, but very private, woman.

This is a classic chronological biography, beginning with Taylor’s childhood and her secondary school education at the best school for girls in Reading, her home town.  Beauman shows how Taylor developed as a writer, even as she also became a wife, a mother, and even a mistress.  She was dedicated to writing even as she juggled these other roles, but it wasn’t until she was 32 that her first novel was published.  From that point on she had a lucrative career with twelve novels and a considerable number of short stories, many of which were published in The New Yorker magazine.  Despite her success, she never wanted to play the game expected of authors, making public appearances and so on.  This probably cost her some fame, but allowed her to stay a devoted wife and mother, which she valued highly.  Still, Taylor’s career had a certain arc.  Her first few novels were considered her best, and the 1960s brought a shift in public sentiment where readers gradually began seeking out other authors with more modern points of view.

I was pleasantly surprised by this book.  All too often, biographies are dry, factual accounts.  Nicola Beauman’s thorough research infused this biography with real people and emotion.  In the course of her research she was able to meet with a man who had been Taylor’s lover in the 1930s.  He never stopped loving her, and Beauman’s meeting with him was quite touching.  Beauman also successfully conveyed Taylor’s emotions during difficult periods, like when her later work attracted negative reviews.

By the end of this year I will have read all of Elizabeth Taylor’s twelve novels.  I plan to use this book as a reading companion, returning to it with each novel to remind myself of what was happening in Taylor’s life at that time, and of how her life experiences influenced each book.

Midweek @ Musings: March Readalong – Elizabeth Taylor’s “A View of the Harbour”


Our 2012 Elizabeth Taylor Centenary continues in March with Taylor’s third novel, A View of the Harbour. Last month we read Palladian, and Rachel led a wonderful discussion.

Simon @ Stuck-in-a-Book is hosting this month’s readalong.  If you’ve reviewed the book, be sure to share it via the “Mr. Linky” on my Elizabeth Taylor Centenary page.

The description on the novel’s back cover reads:

“Are we to go on until we are old, with just these odd movements here and there and danger always so narrowly evaded? Love draining away our vitality, our hold on life, never adding anything to us?” Passions intrudes into the dull, predictable world of a faded coastal resort when Tory, recently divorced, begins an affair with her neighbor Robert, the local doctor. His wife Beth, Tory’s best friend, writes successful and melodramatic novels, oblivious to household chores and the relationship developing next door. But their daughter Prudence is aware and appalled by Robert and Tory’s treachery. The resolution of these painful matters is conveyed with wit and compassion, as are the restricted lives of other characters: the refreshingly coarse Mrs. Bracey, the young widow Lily Wilson and the self-deceiving Bertram. In this enchanting and devastatingly well-observed novel, first published in 1947, Elizabeth Taylor again draws an unforgettable picture of love, loss, and the keeping up of appearances.

A View of the Harbour began as an unpublished book titled Never and Always.  They are two distinctly different works, but share many characters and situations.  By this time her work was gaining critical acclaim in Britain and Knopf, Taylor’s American publisher, was very enthusiastic about the book.

I read A View of the Harbour in 2008, and gave it 4.5 stars.  The experience landed Taylor on my “favorite authors” list, because of her unique ability to bring minute observation to life:

A View of the Harbour focuses on the day-to-day events and relationships of the community. Like any small town, people spend a lot of time watching one another and gossiping. Characters are presented first at a distance, as viewed through a window by a neighbor. But Taylor also transitions seamlessly to first-hand accounts of each character, bringing detail, depth and emotion to each situation. Many events play out through the perspective of Bertram, a visitor who has supposedly come to paint the scenery, but manages to insert himself into the lives of several community members. As he becomes acquainted with various people, so does the reader.

Simon has already given us a little preview, and promises to return around 26 March to open a discussion.  Once you’ve read the book, be sure to link to your review here.  Enjoy!

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Midweek @ Musings: February Readalong – Elizabeth Taylor’s “Palladian”


Welcome to the second month of the 2012 Elizabeth Taylor Centenary.  The LibraryThing Virago Modern Classics Group  launched this event last month, reading her debut novel, At Mrs Lippincote’s (read all about January’s events here).  The celebration continues in February with Taylor’s second novel, Palladian. Rachel @ Booksnob is hosting this month’s readalong. If you’ve reviewed the book, be sure to share it via the “Mr. Linky” on my Elizabeth Taylor Centenary page .

The description on the novel’s back cover reads:

Young Cassandra is alone in the world, her father had just died. When she goes to Cropthorne Manor as a governess, its weary facade and crumbling statues are all that she could hope for. And Marion Vanbrugh is the perfect employer – a widower, austere and distant, with a penchant for Greek. But this is not a ninteenth-century novel and Cassandra’s Mr. Rochester isn’t the only inhabitant of the Manor. There’s Tom, irascible and discontented, Margaret, pregnant and voracious, the ineffectual Tinty and the eccentric, domineering Nanny. Just as Jane Austen wittily contrasted real life with a girl’s Gothic fantasies in Northhanger Abbey, so Elizabeth Taylor subtly examines the realities of life for a latter-day Jane Eyre in this sharply observed work, first published in 1946.

In her biography, The Other Elizabeth Taylor, Nicola Beauman writes of Palladian:

The title refers to the architectural style of the house in which the novel is set; it warns the reader that the background is the English literary tradition, and that the book is a romantic satire both on the classical tradition and on the Gothic novel — in fact a deliberate period piece. (p. 158)

Further, she says Taylor was borrowing from Jane Austen (through the protagonist’s name, Cassandra Dashwood), and paying homage to the style of Ivy Compton-Burnett, another Virago author.  Beauman seems to believe Taylor has found her voice, saying, “It was to be her typical style: the sadness and pathos mixed with a unique feel for language — and humour” (p. 164).

I read Palladian last year and gave it 4 stars.  In my review I wrote:

This novel’s description led me to expect a fairly conventional “young governess falls for lord of the manor” story. I should have known better. Elizabeth Taylor does not write conventional novels; she writes deep studies of characters and relationships.

The setting was just as important as the characters; here’s a quote I thought was just beautiful:

The sky looked swollen, as if it held some darker, heavier substance than rain, as if at a finger’s pressure it would let down a stained syrup, like the blackberry juice dripping from the muslin net in the kitchen. (p. 124)

When I read it, I definitely did not “get” that it was satire. Not at all.  I’ll be interested to see what others thought!

Look for Rachel‘s post later this month inviting comments, and be sure to link to your reviews here!

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The Sunday Salon: Elizabeth Taylor January Wrap-up

The 2012 Elizabeth Taylor Centenary is in full swing!  LibraryThing members have been reading Taylor’s first novel, At Mrs. Lippincote’s, and the Virago Modern Classics Readers Facebook page has attracted over 65 “likes” in 3 weeks.  Things are also shaping up nicely to extend events beyond LibraryThing and Facebook, into the literary blog community.  Whichever platform you prefer, there’s an Elizabeth Taylor birthday party waiting for you!

I’m really excited about the support received from fellow bloggers.  Thank you!!   Bloggers are lined up to host monthly reads for all but a few months of the year.  Here’s the reading list, with hosts as of today (pssst … click here if you’d like to sign up!):

  1. At Mrs. Lippincote’s (1945)
  2. Palladian (1946) – hosted by Rachel @ Booksnob
  3. A View of the Harbour (1947) – hosted by Simon @ Stuck In a Book
  4. A Wreath of Roses (1949) – hosted by FleurFisher
  5. A Game of Hide and Seek (1951) – hosted by BuriedinPrint
  6. The Sleeping Beauty (1953) – hosted by Laura @ Musings
  7. Angel (1957) – hosted by Alex @ Luvvie’s Musings
  8. In a Summer Season (1961)
  9. The Soul of Kindness (1964) – hosted by Heaven-Ali
  10. The Wedding Group (1968) – hosted by Harriet Devine’s Blog
  11. Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont (1971) – hosted by Verity @ Verity’s Virago Venture
  12. Blaming (1976)

There are several reviews of this month’s book, At Mrs. Lippincote’s, available via the Elizabeth Taylor Centenary page on this blog.  The book also generated lively discussion in the LibraryThing Virago Modern Classics Group.  We loved this bookish quote about Oliver, a boy in the novel:

Oliver Davenant did not merely read books. He snuffed them up, took breaths of them into his lungs, filled his eyes with the sight of the print and his head with the sound of words. Some emanation from the book itself poured into his bones, as if he were absorbing steady sunshine. The pages had personality.

In The Other Elizabeth Taylor, biographer Nicola Beauman tells us Oliver’s character was based on a boy Elizabeth taught in 1930:

The precociousness was true to life, but Oliver Knox was a grave, self-contained good humoured little boy whom Betty enjoyed being with very much and who, like his namesake in At Mrs Lippincote’s, was always charmingly irreverent, always conscious of the absurd but serious au fond (‘he always said he woudl be a judge when he grew up, & I always felt he was practising on me,’ Elizabeth would write).

Most members enjoyed the book; below are some excerpts from our book chat:

  • A beautifully written novel. Elizabeth Taylor’s amazing attention to detail in her depiction of the minutiae of everyday family life brings her characters and their world to life.
  • It’s such a clever portrait of a marriage and those surrounding it, so perceptive and witty about people, all that I love about Taylor.
  • Taylor writes incredible descriptions and wonderfully precocious children. It’s a really naturalistic, “slice-of-life” novel that see-saws from the humorous to the cynical.
  • I am enjoying the evocation of times passed and finding it is making me philosophical and reflective about life styles and changing times. … Elizabeth Taylor writes about the brown satchel in which he kept his payments – I can see it in my mind’s eye right now!  This vignette led me to reflect upon our understanding of the period details in this delightful book. I find myself having to re-read every now and then to realise the full meaning of a description.

But not everyone liked it, some found the characters shallow and the plot too slow.  And some picked up on very fine details:

Did anyone notice how often wasps appeared in the book—usually to be killed or at least swatted at? In the first instance, Roddy kills one, and Julia protests. … Wasps suggest industriousness, organization, perhaps community? … In the second instance, several wasps come to swarm around a dish of apples, and Roddy first “swish{ed} about with his table napkin” and then “gave a smart clap now and then” which caused an occasional wasp to drop stunned to the carpet. Still not sure what to make of these vignettes, but my inner Literary Reader says they aren’t in there accidentally.

It was a lot of fun, and there’s more to come next month.  Rachel, our February host, wrote this week about how she discovered Elizabeth Taylor. And Buried in Print served up loads of insights on At Mrs Lippincote’s and generally waxed effusive about this fine author.

Be sure to visit Booksnob next month to chat about Palladian!

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The Sunday Salon: YOU can Help Celebrate Elizabeth Taylor’s Centenary!

The 2012 Elizabeth Taylor Centenary is gathering steam.  This week we expanded beyond the LibraryThing Virago Modern Classics Group by launching a Virago Classics Readers Facebook page.  Today I’m pleased to announce a series of monthly reads hosted by literary bloggers.

The success of this venture depends on you, fellow bloggers, both to read books and to host.  Hosting is easy. Rachel @ Booksnob helped me brainstorm about it this week. Here’s what’s involved:

  • Advertise the monthly read on your blog a week or two before the month.  Encourage people to read the book, and to visit on a specific date when you commit to posting about the book and facilitating discussion in the comments.
  • On the chosen date, share your personal thoughts on the book.  This can be a review or just that, thoughts.  Pose discussion question(s) and invite comments.
  • Invite other bloggers to share their thoughts on the book.  We’ll be collecting links, probably through a Mr. Linky on my Elizabeth Taylor Centenary page.
  • At the end of the month, post a wrap-up that points to that month’s set of links, and highlights what different people have said about the book.
  • Feel free to get creative.  Anything goes: prepare a recipe mentioned in a Taylor novel, dress up your pet as your favorite character, you name it!

If you’d like to host, please use the contact form at the end of this post, and let me know your first and second choice book.  I’ll confirm your month as soon as possible.  I hope to hear from you soon!  (update 1 February: for the latest list of hosts, click here)

Reading List

  1. At Mrs. Lippincote’s (1945)
  2. Palladian (1946)
  3. A View of the Harbour (1947)
  4. A Wreath of Roses (1949)
  5. A Game of Hide and Seek (1951)
  6. The Sleeping Beauty (1953)
  7. Angel (1957)
  8. In a Summer Season (1961)
  9. The Soul of Kindness (1964)
  10. The Wedding Group (1968)
  11. Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont (1971)
  12. Blaming (1976)

Yes, I’d like to host a monthly read!

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Midweek @ Musings: Join “Virago Modern Classics Readers” on Facebook!


If you’ve been paying attention, you’ll know I’ve been blathering on about promoting a reading event in honor of Elizabeth Taylor’s Centenary.  If you haven’t been paying attention, that’s OK:  you can read a post from December, and another from last week.  The LibraryThing Virago Modern Classics Group  launched the event with a group read of At Mrs Lippincote’s.  And then, Buried in Print commented on one of my posts:

Awfully curious to see where you’re planning to take the Taylor celebrations; it would be great if the platform was more inclusive somehow…

What a great idea!  Here’s a start:

As the name implies, this new Virago Classics Readers Facebook page is not limited to the Elizabeth Taylor Centenary, but will be a home for all sorts of Virago-ish reading events.  The page will also be a discussion forum, and a place to post photos and links.

I’m also hatching a plan to involve more bloggers in the Elizabeth Taylor Centenary.  Stay tuned for more details.

Meanwhile, if you use Facebook, click on the badge and “like” the page!

Midweek @ Musings: It’s January, time to read Woman Authors!


The new year is just 4 days old, but already there are two great reading events in full swing.

First, there’s Orange January, where we read books that have won, or been nominated for, the Orange Prize for Fiction.  It’s a lot of fun, and the best part is, it takes place again in July.  There’s a lot of book chat happening in the LibraryThing and Facebook groups, and some fabulous giveaways from Jill at The Magic Lasso.  Back in July, I introduced my Orange mascot, Pumpkin, who returns this month, as feisty as ever.  I’m not sure how much he’ll have to say, but he likes to climb on the furniture to pose with stacks of books.  I mentioned my reading plans back in December, but Pumpkin insists we do it again.Uploaded from the Photobucket iPhone App  From bottom to top, the books pictured are:

I’ve already completed my first book, Beyond Black.  Notice I said “completed,” not “finished,” because I couldn’t finish it.  The plot sounded intriguing, but the story was just too rambling, the conflict took forever to develop, and I was afraid it would take another forever to resolve.  So: first book of 2012, first “DNF” (read my review).  Sigh.  On to Lullabies for Little Criminals, and I’ll have more to say about that next week.

The second reading event is the year-long Elizabeth Taylor Centenary, where the LibraryThing Virago Modern Classics group will be reading one of her novels each month.  I wrote about this in December, too, but it never hurts to plug it again!  Taylor’s debut novel, At Mrs. Lippincote’s, is our January book.  I’ve read it, and am enjoying reconnecting with this book through other readers.  And since I don’t have a Taylor novel to read, I’m reading a biography by Nicola Beauman, The Other Elizabeth Taylor.  It’s fascinating to gain such insight into an author who was quite a private individual and didn’t leave much of a paper trail when she passed away.  I’ve learned that one of the characters in At Mrs. Lippincote’s was based on a boy Taylor taught, and that Taylor’s involvement in the local communist party served as inspiration for community meetings in the novel.  And there are other elements of the family’s life drawn from Taylor’s marriage.

We will read her second and third novels in February and March, respectively.  Won’t you join us?

Midweek @ Musings: Get Ready for the Elizabeth Taylor Centenary

A while back I mentioned my plan to honor the author Elizabeth Taylor in 2012.  Things are falling nicely into place, with several members of the LibraryThing Virago Modern Classics Group ready to celebrate with me.   We’ve chosen our reads for the first quarter, and funny enough, they are Taylor’s first three novels.

As it happens, I’ve read them already!  But I’m looking forward to revisiting these early novels and joining in the LibraryThing discussion.  Care to join us?  Allow me to tempt you with more about each book, including the description transcribed from Virago Modern Classic editions, and links to my reviews.

January: At Mrs. Lippincote’s (1945) – my review

“When he had married Julia, he had thought her woefully ignorant of the world; had looked forward, indeed, to assisting in her development. But she had been grown up all the time; or, at least, she had not changed”
Mrs. Lippincote’s house, with its mahogany furniture and yellowing photographs, stands as a reminder of the earlier securities. This is to be the temporary home of Julia, who has joined her husband Roddy at the RAF’s behest; of their young son Oliver, and Eleanor, Roddy’s cousin. Here Julia must be mother and above all, officer’s wife, for Roddy, that “leader of men”, requires that she fulfil her role impeccably. Julia accepts the pomposities of service life, but her honesty and sense of humour prevent her from taking her role too seriously. And in her easy friendship with the Wing Commander and her allegiance with the raffish Mr. Taylor, Julia expresses a sensitivity unknown to those closest to her. Others may chafe at Julia’s behaviour, but it is they – not she- who practise hypocrisy.

February: Palladian (1946) – my review

Young Cassandra is alone in the world, her father had just died. When she goes to Cropthorne Manor as a governess, its weary facade and crumbling statues are all that she could hope for. And Marion Vanbrugh is the perfect employer – a widower, austere and distant, with a penchant for Greek. But this is not a ninteenth-century novel and Cassandra’s Mr. Rochester isn’t the only inhabitant of the Manor. There’s Tom, irascible and discontented, Margaret, pregnant and voracious, the ineffectual Tinty and the eccentric, domineering Nanny. Just as Jane Austen wittily contrasted real life with a girl’s Gothic fantasies in Northhanger Abbey, so Elizabeth Taylor subtly examines the realities of life for a latter-day Jane Eyre in this sharply observed work, first published in 1946.

March: A View of the Harbour (1947) – my review

“Are we to go on until we are old, with just these odd movements here and there and danger always so narrowly evaded? Love draining away our vitality, our hold on life, never adding anything to us?” Passions intrudes into the dull, predictable world of a faded coastal resort when Tory, recently divorced, begins an affair with her neighbor Robert, the local doctor. His wife Beth, Tory’s best friend, writes successful and melodramatic novels, oblivious to household chores and the relationship developing next door. But their daughter Prudence is aware and appalled by Robert and Tory’s treachery. The resolution of these painful matters is conveyed with wit and compassion, as are the restricted lives of other characters: the refreshingly coarse Mrs. Bracey, the young widow Lily Wilson and the self-deceiving Bertram. In this enchanting and devastatingly well-observed novel, first published in 1947, Elizabeth Taylor again draws an unforgettable picture of love, loss, and the keeping up of appearances.

I’ll be reporting in on our book chat here, but the best way to get involved is to join the LibraryThing Virago Modern Classics Group  You’ll also meet a whole bunch of wonderful people!  What have you got to lose?

I hope to “see” you in January!