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.