28 March 2013

Angel by Elizabeth Taylor

It was no accident that Angel was one of the last novels by Elizabeth Taylor to be pulled from my stash.  Not because I was saving it but rather, I was dreading it.  Reading various posts here and there about the main character, Angel, being petulant, headstrong, odious, and eccentric did little to inspire me to reach for it while browsing for my next read.  Well, let me add 'delusional' to that list of adjectives.

Things weren't so bad in the beginning - a family consisting of only women as her father had 'coughed his way through only a year and a half of married bliss'.  Living above her mother's small grocery shop on a street lined with other small businesses, Angel is never allowed to serve customers lest it give away the illusion of a child a cut above everyone else's.  While she sits quietly upstairs with nothing much to entertain her, the stairs separating her from the shop are littered with jars of pickles and vinegar.  Mrs Deverell's sister, Lottie, is in service as the lady's maid at Paradise House.  A large country home nearby with meandering lawns and large galleries, a jewellry case stocked with gems provide countless stories to fill the hours spent sipping tea during visits and Angel soaks up every last bit of it.

So far so good.  And when Angel tells her classmates, Gwen and Polly, that Paradise House is being cared for until it is her turn to inherit I lapped up every ridiculous lie.

'"My mother lost her inheritance because she married beneath her.  She can never go back, so don't ever mention anything to anybody about Paradise House for that reason."'

Well of course the girls are going to relay such a delicious tidbit which in turn has Mrs Deverell confronting her daughter.  Feigning an illness to avoid leaving the house and face ridicule she begins to write a novel dotted with scandalous material, wicked things like card-playing and a very detailed birthing scene.  Scenes considered unimaginable for the delicate female reader during the early twentieth century.  Writing with determination until her book is finished she packs off the bundle in the post and basically waits for the accolades to come rolling in - it doesn't happen.  In my favourite scene of the book Angel then heads to a publishing company in Bloomsbury to pitch her work of art to Theo Gilbright and Willie Brace.  After the meeting...

'"We should not have let her go alone.  Someone should have seen her to the station," said Theo Gilbright.  "Is she safe to be wandering about London?"
"Is London safe." asked Willie Brace, "with her wandering about in it?  She is surely mad?"

The rest of the novel plays out in what I came to think of Miss Havisham meets Blanche Hudson; rising star then a fall from grace before finally descending into wandering around a crumbling pile in fraying gowns.  If a storyline like that appeals then you will think you died and went to heaven with this book but it's not what I hope for when I think of that certain 'je ne sais quoi' in an Elizabeth Taylor novel.  So my final verdict on the matter is that this will be a love-hate sort of book for me as I couldn't relate to the characters, found it all a bit too fanciful but the first quarter of the book was fabulous and Taylor's skills of observation continue to amaze. 


10 comments:

  1. Oh my! I purchased the book about 3 months ago and it is in my TBR stack. The blurb on the jacket made me think twice, but it was written by Elizabeth Taylor, so I thought, how bad could it be?
    Well, I may still read it, but it will be placed lower in the TBR stack.
    Thanks for a great review.

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    1. Oh Jean, even Taylor on a bad day is much better than so many authors out there so don't be put off. You made a worthwhile purchase but don't worry if the dust gathers on it for a bit.

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  2. I've read so little of her...but I'm guessing this isn't the one to go on with. Do you have a recommendation?

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    1. In A Summer Season was my first experience with Taylor and by the halfway point I was sitting up and really taking notice of her writing style. It suits me. Blaming is another absolutely fabulous read which I wasn't exactly drawn to by the synopsis but ended up loving. There are three copies of A Game of Hide and Seek on my bookshelves so that should tell you something! And as for Palladian, I didn't like that one very much.

      p.s. - I'm not past the introduction on The Hotel yet if you're interested in a read-along! May not be the easiest book to get a hold of quickly though.

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  3. Audrey, I really liked both The Soul of Kindness and A View of the Harbour. Also, her short stories are wonderful. A Game of Hide and Seek is generally considered to be her masterpiece, but I've started it three times and, for some reason, just can't get through it.

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    1. Thanks for giving Audrey some suggestions, Leticia. I really enjoyed A View of the Harbour as well.

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  5. Thank you both for the suggestions! Looking forward to them!

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  6. I think it's my favourite Taylor novel, but I agree that it's very different from her others (or at least the others that I have read) - but, as a portrait of an entirely selfish character, I think it's exceptional.

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    1. Oh Simon, I seem to lack the maturity and skill of analyzing a novel properly. If the story doesn't work for me the tendency will be to dismiss it rather than look for any silver linings or skill of the author. I always value your opinion though!

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