Tag Archives: fiction

Ten Random Books

Today Simon at Stuck in a Book published a post called 10 random books to tell us about yourself inviting us to do just that—select ten books at random from our bookshelves as a way of getting to know fellow bloggers from their bookshelves.

So, I followed Simon’s approach and used my GoodReads shelves and an online random number generator to see what popped up. The books include everything, fiction, non-fiction, books that have been read, unread books, books I’ll probably never get to read, comics, plays, poetry etc. etc. Here’s the results:

1. ‘Travels with My Aunt’ by Graham Greene
I had a bit of a Graham Greene session a few years ago, having not read anything by him up to then, but never got round to reading this one. I’ve read several reviews by other bloggers and it really appeals—it will probably be my next Greene book.

2. The Literary Detective: 100 Puzzles in Classic Fiction’ by John Sutherland
I can see why I added this to my GoodReads TBR shelf but to be honest I doubt if I’ll ever get round to reading it. I’m sure it would be a fun read though.

3. ‘Varney the Vampire Or the Feast of Blood’ by Thomas Peckett Prest & James Malcolm Rymer
I added this to my TBR as it was a group read for the Gothic Literature GoodReads group. I didn’t get round to reading it but it looks like it would be a fun book. It was a serialised Victorian gothic horror ‘penny dreadful’ first published between 1845-7. It’s not going to be top-notch literature but looks interesting enough and must be one of the first vampire stories.

4. ‘The Quarry’ by Iain Banks
This was published just days after Iain Banks’ death on 9th June 2013. I read it a few months later, along with a re-read of my favourite Banks novel The Wasp Factory, as a commemoration of Iain Banks life and works. I enjoyed it and found it somewhat similar to The Wasp Factory.

5. ‘The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling’
by Henry Fielding

This is one of those classics that I keep forgetting about. I’m sure I’d like it though I will probably want an edition with some notes. I saw the 1960s film years ago.

6. ‘Betty Blue’ by Philippe Djian
Ok, so I saw and loved the film when it came out in the late eighties but have never read the book, or anything else by Djian. I’ve read a couple of reviews recently (here and here) of Elle, which has also been made into a film starring Isabelle Hupert. I should see about reading something by Djian.

7. ‘Rowlf’ by Richard Corben
Richard Corben was a comic book artist/illustrator who produced work in the underground comics of the late 1960s and moved into the mainstream, contributing to magazines such as Heavy Metal. His work could very often be categorised as horror, sci-fi or fantasy but he had his very own distinctive style. I have a copy of this buried away somewhere along with many others; one day they will be allowed out in the sunlight again.

8. ‘King Solomon’s Mines’ by H. Rider Haggard
Basically a late Victorian adventure story. I read this in 2010 and remember being surprised at just how good it was though I was in just the right frame of mind when I read it. It’s probably incredibly poitically incorrect and I can imagine some people getting in a rage over it. Personally, I’m not shocked when Victorians don’t have the views of twenty-first century Western intellectuals.

9. ‘Up Above the World’ by Paul Bowles
I’ve read a few books by Paul Bowles but nothing recently. I first discovered his work when I first got into ‘The Beats’; I soon realised that I generally preferred those authors that inspired the Beats rather than the Beats themselves. Every now and then I get the urge to re-read Let It Come Down and then remember that I got rid of my copy. Up Above the World looks as if it will be similar to his other works, involving travellers adrift in an alien and hostile environment. Sort of like a nastier Graham Greene and with more drugs.

10. ‘Identity’ by Milan Kundera
I’m pretty sure I’ve read this one but I can’t remember a damn thing about it. I think I was a bit disappointed with it at the time but I’d be interested to see what I’d make of it now. I had half-planned to read/re-read Kundera’s later works (i.e. post-Immortality) but haven’t got round to it yet. However I have a copy of this one and as I’m trying to read as many books from my physical TBR pile this year this one could well get read soon.

All the book cover images were taken from GoodReads.

Advertisements

25 Comments

Filed under Fiction

An Update of Sorts

Well, the weekend is usually the only time that I get to post any reviews—but another one has passed where I’ve been unable to post anything. What with work commitments, the European Championships and the EU Referendum (and its aftermath) it’s been nigh impossible to find the time. But, I have been reading, and reading some good books as well. I’ve currently started Volume 7 of Anthony Powell’s Dance to the Music of Time, The Valley of Bones, and I’m thoroughly enjoying it. This series of twelve novels has really impressed me and made me wonder how it was that I hadn’t even heard of it until relatively recently. It was only when I was reading Proust that I first became aware of this novel.

I had initially hoped that 2016 was going to be a year in which I read a lot of those books that I’ve been meaning to read for ages; one such book is Gabriel Chevallier’s Clochemerle which I have read recently; I don’t know where I first heard of it but I just loved the sound of it—a political feud in a French village over the installation of a public urinal. I still hope to post on it soon but as time passes the likelihood of this diminishes. It wasn’t quite as good as I though it would be but it was still an enjoyable read. A T.V. series was produced in the 1970s which was scripted by Galton & Simpson; I now have a copy on DVD and can’t wait to watch it. There were also another couple of Clochemerle sequels that I plan to read soon.

I had intended to post a review of the Penguin collection of two of Thomas Ligotti’s short story collections, which combined Songs of a Dead Dreamer and Grimscribe: His Life and Works. I read this as part of a GoodReads group for Gothic Literature, but very few people were interested enough to read along, which was a shame because the stories were generally good. Ligotti’s style was influenced by Lovecraft and Poe but he introduced his own take on these themes of cosmic horror. Some of them were just damn weird. Take, for instance, the story called The Glamour, a Lynchian story, where the narrator describes his nighttime wanderings where he ends up in a seedy, derelict movie theatre where everything seems to be covered in a net of writhing hair.

I continued to stare at the empty seat because my sensation of a vibrant presence there was unrelieved. And in my staring I perceived that the fabric of the seat, the inner webbing of swirling fibers, had composed a pattern in the image of a face—an old woman’s face with an expression of avid malignance—floating amidst wild shocks of twisting hair.

And the film they show at this cinema is some weird abstract impressionist film vaguely resembling a microscopic close-up of some fleshy substance—the film guides the viewer ‘through a catacomb of putrid chambers and cloisters’. All the while hairs from the chairs are seething and tugging at the narrator. Some of the stories are stranger still. The quality varies but Ligotti is worth checking out.

I finished Tomás González’s In the Beginning Was the Sea last week, and although I enjoyed the book, I doubt I’ll end up posting a review. It’s worth checking out Guy’s review, which is where I first heard of the book. Basically, set in Columbia, a couple decide to leave the city and live in the country but neither are particularly suitable people for such a challenge.

I’ve tried reading more of Céline’s Trifles for a Massacre but it’s too depressing a read, so I may have to abandon it. I have read about 40% of the book which is probably enough.

I had made some half-arsed plans to read a whole load of social history books on Great Britain. I had hoped to concentrate on late 18th Century and post WWII but my interest in this project hit the buffers when I started to read Jenny Uglow’s In These Times: Living in Britain through Napoleon’s Wars 1793-1815, a book that had greatly appealed to me, but which actually just bored me stiff. I had hoped to understand what Britons thought of events that were going on in France, and Europe, but it was just a dull collection of articles on aspects of life in Britain with each chapter concentrating in detail on a particular subject with no real attempt at synthesis. There was so much emphasis on first-hand records that it just seemed like a collection of quotes and descriptions of a random collection of people’s lives. Other reviewers on GoodReads seem to love it but I just found it incredibly dull. Oh well. I now have little interest to read more, despite having many books earmarked for future reads.

As mentioned earlier, I’m still hoping to concentrate more on books that have been on my TBR for a while and to read more non-fiction, especially on topics that I’ve been meaning to read about for ages; I feel that I have been too easily distracted in the past and hope to change that in the future, but before that there’s another Euro match to watch….more distractions…

12 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

‘The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins’ (1938) by Dr. Seuss

Seuss_Bart-Cubbins-fcX-700pxThe 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins, published in 1938, was Dr. Seuss’s second book. It was one of my favourite books when I was a child in the 1970s; re-reading this as an adult is a bit strange as I can still remember reading it with a child’s eye. For anyone who is more used to Suess’s Cat in the Hat style, ‘500 Hats’ may seem a bit odd as it is told in a prose style and although it reads more like a normal fairy tale it is still undoubtedly an original Dr. Seuss story. The drawings supplement the text beautifully; they’re in black and white except for the hats which are coloured red. As a child I loved noticing subtle things in the pictures that were mentioned in the text and still found myself doing the same thing as an adult.

The story begins with King Derwin looking out from his mountaintop castle over his lands, which makes him feel ‘mighty important’. We then see Bartholomew looking up at the castle from his hut on the edge of a bog, which makes him feel ‘mighty small’. Seuss wastes no time with preliminaries, however, and we soon see Bartholomew going to town to sell some cranberries. When he’s in town there’s a great furore as the king and his entourage are travelling through the streets. The king stops when he notices a little boy who hasn’t taken his hat off in the king’s presence—the boy is, of course, Bartholomew Cubbins. But this is where the confusion begins because Bartholomew has taken his hat from his head, he’s holding it in his hands, it’s just that another identical red hat with a feather is on his head. To the king, this is just impertinence and when Bartholomew is unable to remove his hat without another one appearing he’s sent off to the castle to be interrogated, with red hats flying from his head and falling in his wake.

At the castle, the king, along with all the Lords and noblemen, interrogate Bartholomew, while Sir Alaric, Keeper of the Records, keeps a record of the number of hats produced; it’s not long before we’re at 135. The King is not amused and calls for Sir Snipps, hatmaker, Nadd, a Wise Man, as well as Nadd’s father and grandfather to try to unravel the mystery—but they cannot solve it. Now the King’s insolent nephew, Wilfred, gets involved and suggests using a bow and arrow to shoot the hat off of Bartholomew’s head. He has no luck as it just produces more hats; the Yeoman of the Bowmen has no more luck than Wilfred and calls it ‘black magic’. The King calls for his magicians to use their magic on Bartholomew but is furious when he’s informed it may take ten years to work. The nasty little boy, Wilfred, suggests to the King that he should just chop off Bartholomew’s head and so he’s sent to the dungeon to meet the executioner.

   The executioner was whistling and swinging his axe idly, because at the moment he had nothing to do. In spite of his business, he really seemed to be a very pleasant man.
   “The King says you must chop off my head,” said Bartholomew.
   “Oh, I’d hate to,” said the executioner, looking at him with a friendly smile. “You seem such a nice boy.”
Seuss_Bart-Cubbins-02-pic-XC-700px   “Well…the King says you have to,” said Bartholomew, “so please get it over with.”
   “All right,” sighed the executioner, “but first you’ve got to take off your hat.”
   “Why?” asked Bartholomew.
   “I don’t know,” said the executioner, “but it’s one of the rules . I can’t execute anyone with his hat on.”
   “All right,” said Bartholomew, “you take it off for me.”
   The executioner leaned across the chopping block and flipped off Bartholomew’s hat.
   “What’s this?” he gasped, blinking through the holes in his mask, as another hat sat on Bartholomew’s head. He flipped this one off…then another and another.

As the Seuss_Bart-Cubbins-inside-pic-600pxexecutioner gives up on this technicality, the wicked Wilfred suggest just shoving Bartholomew off a tall tower. However, while Batholomew is climbing the steps to the top the hats, which have been up to now just duplicates of his original hat, now become increasingly ornate until the last hat is so beautiful with its ostrich plumes and large ruby that the King offers him 500 gold coins for the hat…and the now rich, but hatless, Bartholomew returns home.

the-1938-clubOk, I couldn’t resist telling the whole story, but hopefully there won’t be any children reading this blog to get upset. Anyway the fun with Seuss is the telling of the story, the wordplay and the imaginative illustrations. What a wonderful book from 1938—which was read as a part of the weeklong ‘1938 Club’ project hosted by Karen and Simon.

16 Comments

Filed under Children's books, Seuss, Dr.

‘Narziss and Goldmund’ by Hermann Hesse

Hesse_Narziss-and-Goldmund-fcXC-700pxNarziss and Goldmund was originally published as Narziß und Goldmund in 1930. The translation I read was by Geoffrey Dunlop and was originally published in 1932 as Death and the Lover. The Penguin edition was first published in 1971.

I had a rocky ride reading this book; after about fifty pages I wanted to throw it to one side with contempt, I continued for a while then it annoyed me for another reason, but I continued, and by the time I finished it I was enjoying the story and found it difficult to see why the beginning annoyed me quite so much.

The story has a simple beginning: Narziss is a scholarly type who is well-suited to the monastic life, he’s still quite young when the story begins and is yet to take his vows. Goldmund is brought to the monastery, Mariabronn, one day by his father. Although he makes friends easily, he only becomes true friends with Narziss – opposites seem to attract.

Narziss was dark and thin of face, and Goldmund open and radiant as a flower. Narziss was a thinker and anatomiser, Goldmund a dreamer and a child. Yet things common to both could bridge these differences. Both were knightly and delicate; both set apart by visible signs from their fellows, since both had received the particular admonishment of fate.

Narziss is attracted to Goldmund’s free spirit and Goldmund idolises Narziss’s piety and scholarship. Having grown up in such an environment Goldmund feels that it is his destiny to become a monk and follow the path set out for him. But Narziss, who has an almost supernatural ability to look into people’s inner lives, tries to convince Goldmund that the monastic life is not the best course to take. Goldmund, however, continues to struggle to emulate Narziss. One night some of the boys escape to the village and Goldmund feels the pull of the world through the enticements of an attractive maid. Narziss tries to convince Goldmund that there is nothing wrong with his feelings and that he should not keep trying to be like Narziss, but should instead try to ‘know himself’. In one of their intense conversations Narziss describes the differences in their natures:

Men of dreams, the lovers and the poets, are better in most things than the men of my sort; the men of intellect. You take your being from your mothers. You live to the full: it is given you to love with your whole strength, to know and taste the whole of life. We thinkers, though often we seem to rule you, cannot live with half your joy and full reality. Ours is a thin and arid life, but the fullness of being is yours; yours the sap of the fruit, the garden of lovers, the joyous pleasaunces of beauty. Your home is the earth, ours the idea of it. Your danger is to be drowned in the world of sense, ours to gasp for breath in airless space. You are a poet, I a thinker. You sleep on your mother’s breast, I watch in the wilderness. On me there shines the sun; on you the moon with all the stars. Your dreams are all of girls, mine of boys—

This conversation affects Goldmund and he later collapses and is put to bed to recuperate. On recovering he has a vision of his mother, whom he can barely remember, and experiences feelings of agony and joy; from hereon he appears to Narziss to have found his true self. Goldmund realises that Narziss was correct in his analysis of himself and that he must escape into the world, away from the cloister.

Now, why did this part of the book annoy me so much when I first read it? It may have just been that I wasn’t in the mood for it but it was also this idea of duality in life, this idea that everything could be explained in terms of complimentary opposites (yin and yang?) which I find just too simplistic an argument to be useful for…well, anything really. In this case it is stated that thinkers/scholars are all like Narziss — pious, ascetic, distant from the world; and artists/free-spirits are all like Goldmund — lovers, live life to the full, belong in the world. Later on in the novel we get this explanation:

All being, it seemed, was built on opposites, on division. Man or woman, vagabond or citizen, lover or thinker — no breath could both be in and out, none could be man and wife, free and yet orderly, knowing the urge of life and the joy of intellect. Always the one paid for the other, though each was equally precious and essential.

With regards to character types I think it’s more useful to think in terms of a spectrum of types rather than in binary terms; in this case, admittedly, Narziss and Goldmund may sit at either ends of the spectrum but most of us will be somewhere between the two poles. Having read this section through again I believe that Hesse is using these two extreme character types to make the point that we should not try to be someone we’re not. But then doesn’t this raise the question as to whether we stick to our ‘natural self’ (whatever that means) and never try to change ourselves or whether we should try to change, try new things, experiment etc. I’m not quite so sure it’s as easy as Hesse seems to think to ‘be yourself’. Why shouldn’t Narziss experience the world? Why shouldn’t Goldmund study, learn a trade and settle down etc? They don’t have to be one or the other?

The other thing that annoyed me was all this ‘mother-worship’ stuff going on with Goldmund. It’s explained in this quote:

I understand you well. Now we have no need to dispute: you are awake, and so you have seen the difference between us, the difference between men akin to their father and those who take their destiny from a woman; the difference between spirit and intellect.

Again, it’s the incredibly simplistic idea that artistic temperament comes from the mother while the intellect comes from the father. I guess it’s the influence that Freud et al. had on artists during this period that explains some of this.

Once I realised that I just disagreed with a lot of what Hesse was saying I began to enjoy the book a lot more and didn’t worry. Once Goldmund leaves the monastery to experience life the book changes tack completely and it becomes more of a picaresque novel. Just when all this wandering about starts to get a bit dull Goldmund suddenly finds an aim in life:

…Goldmund had a thing he had never known, a thing he had often smiled at, or envied, in others: an aim.

The aim is to become an artist which takes up much of the rest of the novel until Narziss and Goldmund meet again.

Despite the problems I had with this novel, in the end I really enjoyed it. The style is a mixture of realism and mythology; the descriptions are realistic but it’s in a vaguely defined medieval Germany that almost seems Arthurian until Goldmund experiences the plague that’s ravaging the countryside.

hesse-revisedI read this as part of the Hermann Hesse Reading Week hosted by Caroline at ‘Beauty is a Sleeping Cat’ and Karen at ‘Kaggsy’s Bookish Ramblings’. I’ve enjoyed reading the other posts on Hesse’s work and I’ve discovered a lot about the man and his work.

18 Comments

Filed under Fiction, Hesse, Hermann

‘A Story Teller’s Story’ by Sherwood Anderson

1924-ClubPoor old Sherwood Anderson, no-one reads his books anymore—apart from Winesburg, Ohio that is. As he’s one of my favourite authors I was glad to see that he published a book in 1924 so that I could read it as part of The 1924 Club. A Story Teller’s Story is a memoir as such, but anyone who has read anything by Anderson will realise that we aren’t necessarily going to get a straightforward autobiography. In my experience Anderson was an author that excelled in character studies and short stories; his style is almost impressionistic, where objective details can get a bit blurred or fuzzy; but he really excels in getting inside the characters’ heads. Even when he tried to write longer works Anderson seemed unable to stop it from fragmenting into tales and anecdotes, and I’m guessing that for many people this is one aspect of his style that they find annoying. Winesburg, Ohio is the best example of this as sometimes it’s described as a novel and other times as a collection of short stories. Likewise A Story Teller’s Story soon fragments into episodic tales and recollections from his childhood to the period when he was writing the book. He starts to tell tales from different periods as well and it becomes a glorious, jumbled-up mess of memoir, essay and character studies.

Anderson_Story-Teller-fcA Story Teller’s Story begins with Anderson’s childhood, where the dominant figure, for Anderson was his father who is described as ‘a ruined dandy from the South’ who worked as a sign-writer. He also states: ‘Father was made for romance. For him there was no such thing as a fact.’ Anderson takes after his father so any description of his father can often be seen to apply to Anderson himself and the main theme of the book is how dreamers can survive in the materialistic America of the early 20th century.

One of his father’s passions is storytelling. During the winter, when his sign-writing work was nonexistent, his father would travel about with a friend visiting local farms where they would put on a variety act for entertainment such as singing, dancing and magic lantern shows—and of course storytelling. His father would spin a story out making it up as he went along, playing to the audience and alternately trying to scare them, amuse them, make them cry. This is what his father lived for.

   Father was in his element now. This was pie for him. No hungry sons about, no sick wife, no grocery bills or rent to be paid. This the golden age—timeless; there was no past, no future—the quiet, unsophisticated people in the room were putty to his hands.
   Surely there was something magnificent in my father’s utter disregard for the facts of life.

His father’s tales though are not necessarily truthful and it’s difficult for Anderson to know what is true about his father. But as Anderson gives a descriptive account of one of these entertainment evenings, which he admits he never attended, we must assume that what Anderson tells us of events has been filtered through his storytelling consciousness. Anderson warns us explicitly about this:

But these notes make no pretense of being a record of fact. That isn’t their object. They are merely notes of impressions, a record of vagrant thoughts, hopes, ideas that have floated through the mind of one present-day American. It is likely that I have not, and will not, put into them one truth, measuring by the ordinary standards of truth. It is my aim to be true to the essence of things. That’s what I’m after.

Anderson’s mother is pictured as a level-headed, strong-willed but rather sickly woman who holds the family together whilst his feckless father is off gallivanting about. One scene has the young Anderson in bed with his brothers as his mother rubs fat into their hands.

   The fat in the little cracked china dish is warm and soothing to burning itching hands. For an hour she has had the dish sitting at the back of the kitchen stove in the little frame house far out at the edge of the town.
   The strange, silent mother! She is making love to her sons, but there are no words for her love. There are no kisses, no caresses.
   The rubbing of the warm fat into the cracked hands of her sons is a caress. The light that now shines in her eyes is a caress.

Anderson’s childhood is covered in Book One. Book Two covers his early adult life where he lived in roominghouses whilst working at manual jobs. He has a relationship with a young girl, Nora and he works periodically with horses. During this time he spends a lot of time reading as well. There are stories-within-stories as well; we hear a judge’s story of his youth as a rather effeminate, bookish man and his desire to poison some of his fellow students in revenge—this story was left hanging somewhat as it was unclear whether the judge acted on his impulses. But the judge’s decision to make money, together with the materialistic ethos that Anderson describes permeatting America at the time, influences Anderson’s decision to get into advertising.

Following some problems that Anderson had had with his business, his family and the tension between his professional life and his budding writing career, he had a nervous breakdown in 1912. He walked out of work only to turn up days later in a dazed state of mind. It is unclear what exactly happened but Anderson himself feels that it was pivotal in his life as he subsequently divorced his wife and devoted his time to writing. Anderson describes the event in this book; whilst dictating to his secretary he was struck with an overwhelming desire to escape. On leaving he says to her: “My feet are cold wet and heavy from long wading in a river. Now I shall go walk on dry land.” He then describes the events that followed in an almost dreamlike state.

This post is already too long so I will just say that the rest of the book covers the period when he was a writer and his attempt to ingratiate himself with the literary elite in New York. The Epilogue, which is about thirty pages long, is a work of art in itself and could easily be read as a stand-alone story. In fact if you’re not sure if you want to invest the time in the book as a whole then I would suggest reading just the epilogue. It’s a simple story and is quintessential Anderson that involves storytellers telling their stories and the problems and pleasures that this occupation throws up.

I included the cover of the ‘University of Michigan’ version in this post as I really like the photograph of Anderson sitting at his desk in profile. But I actually read a free copy from The Internet Archive. I found the kindle version had too many typos to read but the pdf version was fine.

3 Comments

Filed under Anderson, Sherwood, Fiction

Recent Reads – Elizabeth Taylor

Taylor_Palfrey_magXC_700pxUntil quite recently I had never heard of the novelist Elizabeth Taylor (a.k.a the other Elizabeth Taylor) but then all of a sudden her name started to appear everywhere. I recently watched the film version of Angel which I enjoyed and thought I’d read something by her – Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont (published 1971) is the one that really jumped out at me. It opens with Mrs Palfrey, a widow, arriving at the Claremont Hotel on a rainy Sunday afternoon in January. If it’s suitable she intends to stay there until she needs to move to a nursing home. There are other elderly, permanent and semi-permanent, residents at the Claremont and Taylor has a lot of fun introducing us to them. Much of their time is spent waiting for meals, talking about meals and trying to convince each other that they have friends and family that have not forgotten them. Mrs Palfey has a daughter who lives in Edinburgh and a grandson who lives in London but neither seem too eager to visit her.

One day Mrs Palfrey has a fall whilst returning from the library and is helped out by a young, penniless writer called Ludo (Ludovic) and she ends up inviting him for dinner at the Claremont. Ludo can’t pass up on a free meal and he is also intrigued with the situation, especially when Mrs Palfrey suggests that he should pretend to be her grandson, Desmond. As Mrs Palfrey gets to know Ludo she discovers that she prefers him to her real grandson.

All the characters are amusing in one way or another and as we get to know some of them further we can empathise with them more fully. Also, Taylor has a skill for turning out amusing little one-liners. Here are a few:

She had about her a strong smell of hair-spray and her lunch-time whisky.

Her face had really gone to pieces – with pouches and dewlaps and deep ravines, as if a landslide had happened.

Time went by. It could be proved that it did, although so little happened.

‘Well, another Sunday nearly gone,’ Mrs Post said quickly, to cover a little fart. She had presence of mind.

And there are many more. The residents come and go, and some die. There’s a great chapter where the residents take a trip out to attend a party of a former resident, the extroverted Mrs de Salis. Everyone seems glad when it’s over though. So, if you haven’t read Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont then I can thoroughly recommend it, but it’s not all laughs, there’s a serious side to the novel which is what makes it more powerful.

Taylor_Hide-and-Seek_mag-X-700pxI read A Game of Hide and Seek before Mrs Palfrey. It was published in 1951 and was Taylor’s fifth novel. The main narrative concerns the relationship between Harriet and Vesey from their friendship when they were young which blossoms into an awkward love. Although in love, it is not strong enough to keep them together when Vesey goes to university. Vesey becomes a second-rate actor and Harriet marries the older, and rather boring, Charles with whom she has a daughter Betsy. Fifteen years later Vesey shows up again and Harriet and Vesey embark on an affair; only they both seem to be just as awkward with each other as they were when they were younger.

Well, that’s the main plot and I won’t reveal any more about it but I must admit that I found it a bit dull, especially the early part of the novel. When I was reading it the main plot seemed to me unimaginative and the main characters just dull. But Taylor is a great writer and as with Mrs Palfrey there are some great one-liners and some brilliant supporting characters. One of the best episodes of the book is when the young Harriet gets a job in a shop where the work just gets in the way of the gossiping. Here’s a description of one of Harriet’s colleagues:

Miss Lazenby was rather free and easy with men, but the men were not always themselves in that happy position. She pinned them down, swore at them, drank a great deal at their expense and had good fun describing to her friends their dufferish attempts at lovemaking.

All the women at the shop are interested in Harriet’s lovelife and offer her endless advice. Harriet dates and then marries Charles and we are introduced to his mother, who is another fascinating, if irritating, character:

Julia Jephcott was in her sixties. Mad, raffish, unselfconscious, she had the beautiful and calm air of one who has all her life acknowledged compliments. This air, associated with beauty, lingered after the beauty itself had collapsed and fled. She seemed to be lovely still to herself, as if no amount of looking into mirrors could ruin her illusion.

There is also a subplot about Harriet’s lonely daughter Betsy becoming obsessed with her teacher and some great passages concerning Elke, a bemused Swedish au pair; she’s bemused by England, the English and their customs and she breaks a lot of china and hides the pieces in her room.

Since reading this book many of the characters and situations have stayed with me and I’m often reminded of scenes from the book. I loved the supporting characters and Taylor’s style and I suspect that my criticism of the main plot and characters may be a bit harsh; if I were to re-read it I think my view may be different. I intend to read more by the ‘other’ Elizabeth Taylor.

11 Comments

Filed under Fiction, Taylor, Elizabeth