Palladian by Elizabeth Taylor

Palladian cover

Palladian by Elizabeth Taylor was first published in 1946 but my copy is a Virago reprint. I have to say that although I enjoyed the book it isn’t up there amongst my favourites. It’s a bit of an homage to Jane Eyre and Jane Austen, a slightly updated Gothic tale and so is quite predictable. There’s even a character who is obviously based on Branwell Bronte. Having said that there is some lovely and humorous writing and well observed characters that you can’t help thinking are so real – they must have been based on someone she knew. There also seems to be a lot of product placement, long before such things occurred surely. Sanatogen, Bengers, Ryvita and more – bizarre, I can’t imagine the author was paid for the mentions.

Cassandra Dashwood’s father has died, she’s now on her own and homeless. She visits her old school and her headmistress arranges for Cassandra to become a governess at Cropthorne Manor which turns out to be everything Cassandra wants – a crumbling, mouldy pile of a house. She has already decided that she will fall in love with her employer Mr Marion Vanbrugh. Yes he IS a man, I believe that was John Wayne’s real name.

The blurb on the back says: Just as Jane Austen wittily contrasted real life with a girl’s Gothic fantasies in Northanger Abbey, so Elizabeth Taylor examines the realities of life for a latter-day Jane Eyre in this sharply observed work.

This is Taylor’s second book to be published, and they always say that it’s the second one that they find most difficult to write, I think it tells in this book. I’d give it a 3.5 on Goodreads – if I could.

A Game of Hide and Seek by Elizabeth Taylor

A Game of Hide and Seek cover

A Game of Hide and Seek by Elizabeth Taylor was published in 1951 and I was lucky enough to find an old Book Club copy with a perfect dust jacket which I think is lovely, but I’m drawn to covers that feature a house.

Harriet and Vesey are teenagers who have been friends since early childhood. Harriet’s mother’s best friend is Vesey’s aunt and he spends a lot of time with his aunt and uncle as his mother isn’t exactly the caring type. Harriet’s mother and Vesey’s aunt had been suffragettes who had even ended up being imprisoned in their young days. Harriet’s mother had believed that as women had got the vote then her daughter would be able to do anything she wanted, maybe become a doctor or judge. But as Harriet wasn’t good at passing exams she had ended up by being a huge disappointment to her mother.

Harriet has always been in love with Vesey but he blows hot and cold and she ends up getting married to Charles, a man much older than she is, more to get away from her ever disapproving mother than for any other reason. Charles is a damaged soul having been jilted at the altar previously and his mother can never let him forget it. Harriet and Charles have a daughter Pauline and the mother – daughter relationship isn’t any better than that which had been between Harriet and her mother.

It all goes a bit Brief Encounter-ish (actually mentioned in the book) when years later Harriet and Vesey meet up again and start seeing each other. Vesey has become an actor but his career hasn’t been a success. Harriet is ready to pick up the relationship where it left off in their teenage days – it’s not going to be good for anyone involved.

This book came after Elizabeth Taylor’s ‘widely acclaimed’ Wreath of Roses which I read decades ago so I can’t compare them now, but it is certainly a good read.

Elizabeth Taylor

A View of the Harbour by Elizabeth Taylor

elizabeth taylor
Elizabeth Taylor

 A View of the Harbour cover

A View of the Harbour by Elizabeth Taylor was first published in 1947, but my copy is a Virago Modern Classic reprint. It has an introduction by Sarah Waters and she says:

Elizabeth Taylor is finally being recognised as an important British author: an author of great subtlety, great compassion and great depth.

I don’t really understand that use of the word ‘finally’ because I’ve always been under the impression that Elizabeth Taylor has long been well thought of as a writer, certainly her books have been reprinted by Folio books and they are very fussy about who they reprint.

In a View from the Harbour Taylor evokes the shabby dreariness that is essentially the atmosphere of most English coastal towns. It’s set just after WW2 and Newby is the sort of place where everyone knows what is going on, there’s nothing else to do really except watch the movements of your neighbours.

Robert is the local doctor and his wife Beth is a successful novelist whose characters’ lives seem to be more real to her than what is going on in her own family. There’s a big age gap between their two daughters, Prudence and Stevie, with Prudence having left school having been a big disappointment to her parents. She’s not an academic girl and for that reason her parents see her as being a complete failure as a human being and something to be ashamed of really.

But Prudence is the one who realises that her father is having an affair with the next door neighbour. Tory is a beautiful divorcee and she has been Beth’s best friend since their schooldays. Tory can’t understand why her husband left her for another woman, especially one in a uniform. She is the sort of self-obsessed bitch of a woman that a husband could get very fed up with though. Finding herself with no man she has no qualms about filching her best friend’s husband Robert. Tory is all make-up, clothes and corsets whereas Beth is all kids, specs and typewriter.

Robert in turn feels sorry for himself because his wife isn’t a wonderful home-maker and spends her time writing books. He isn’t impressed with the fact that she’s a successful novelist at all and just wants her to give it up and devote her life to looking after him and their daughters.

Prudence is aghast by her father’s behaviour but he hardly notices her existence and has no idea that she is smart enough to know what is going on. Thankfully Beth remains unaware of their treachery.

Meanwhile, Bertram is a newly retired naval officer who has pitched up in Newby where he is trying his hand as an artist and seeking to insert himself into the society of the locals. He butters up one lonely war widow, giving her hope for the future, before moving on to Tory. He’s an absolute creep but Tory, dumbfounded by her husband’s defection and needing admiration from men in general becomes glad of his company.

It is a triumph of writing that this book is such a good read because there is a distinct lack of likeable characters, usually a real necessity for me. The younger daughter Stevie is a manipulative wee minx and I would have sorted her out in no time flat!

Recent Book Purchases

More Old Books

These are some of the books that I’ve bought over the last few weeks. The Naomi Mitchison and Mary Stewart books will obviously be featuring in my Read Scotland 2016 Challenge. The others are all authors that I’ve enjoyed reading in the past.

1. The Heat of the Day by Elizabeth Bowen
2. Kingfishers Catch Fire by Rumer Godden
3. The Land the Ravens Found by Naomi Mitchison
4. A Game of Hide and Seek by Elizabeth Taylor
5. The Gabriel Hounds by Mary Stewart
6. An Episode of Sparrows by Rumer Godden

At the moment I’m in a hotel room in Ypres (Wipers) – a place I never thought we would get around to visiting, but here we are. Strangely we’re in a lovely hotel with a beautiful view of bomb craters that have become a small lake. At the moment I’m about 30 yards from where the Germans used flame-throwers for the very first time, a sobering thought.

We’ve already visited the Menin Gate and witnessed The Last Post ceremony which takes place at 8 pm every night. It was very well attended.

Photos will be forthcoming at a later date.

Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont by Elizabeth Taylor

Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont cover

It’s just as well that I keep a written list of all the books which I’ve read and add to it as soon as I’ve finished a book, in fact I write the title down first and add the author when I’ve finished it, all written in pencil in an old school jotter, very low tech. But that low tech list is more precise than my Goodreads list because I just discovered tonight that I hadn’t added all the books that I had finished recently on to Goodreads, which meant that I had actually reached my goal of 75 books read – four books before Goodreads thought I had.

The four which I just added on tonight, despite having finished them were:
1. Traitor’s Purse by Margery Allingham – I’ve already blogged about that one.
2. Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont by Elizabeth Taylor
3. Innocent Traitor by Alison Weir
4. Another Time Another Place by Jessie Kesson

So what did I think about Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont? It must be a couple of weeks since I finished reading it now but it’s still very clear in my mind, and I can’t always say the same of a fair few books, although when I read the blurb the details usually all come back to me. I’ve really liked Elizabeth Taylor’s books in the past and I wasn’t disappointed with this one although I did find the subject matter to be quite sad.

The Claremont Hotel is situated in London and most of the guests are elderly people who have decided to stay there because they aren’t really up to looking after themselves in a home of their own, but obviously don’t want to take the enormous step of checking themselves into an old folks home. They hope that London will have more to offer them in the way of entertainment compared with some more traditional retirement locations such as coastal resorts like Bournemouth.

But the Claremont is peopled by an odd assortment of inhabitants, widows and widowers who were all fairly recognisable characters to me, Taylor is very good at observation of people and the emotions which rule them.

Of course despite the many free attractions on offer in London none of them take the opportunities to visit them, and each day is much the same as the one before. The meals on offer in the hotel are repetitive, on a strict rotation of the – if it’s Tuesday it must be veal – variety. Boredom is the one thing that the guests all have in common, but being seen as an object of pity by the other guests is what Mrs Palfrey really wants to avoid. It’s what they all want to avoid but as they’re stuck in an environment where the most exciting thing that happens is recognising one of the previous guest’s name in the obituary section in The Times, there’s not much hope for any of them.

This book was first published in 1971 when Elizabeth Taylor would have been 59, so she wasn’t in her dotage, but obviously had some experience of people who had lived out their final days in small hotels like The Claremont. This is a really well written book but as I said – I did find the subject sad and it made me all the more determined that if I ever reach a great age – when my time comes – I’ll bow out gracefully thanks!

Recent Book Purchases

Recent Book Purchases

On our recent road trip down to England I bought quite a few books – surprise surprise I hear you say.

1. Film-Lovers’ Annual – 1934
2. The Derbyshire Dales by Norman Price
3. The Better Part by Annie S. Swan
4. Traitor’s Purse by Margery Allingham
5. Murder Among Friends by Elizabeth Ferrars
6. Love Among the Ruins by Angela Thirkell
7. The Provincial Lady In America by E.M. Delafield
8. Appointment with Venus by Jerrard Tickell
9. Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont by Elizabeth Taylor
10. Innocent Traitor by Alison Weir

I’m only sorry that I didn’t buy even more books as I saw two old Batsford travel books and I actually thought I had bought one Batsfprd book but I’ve just realised that the Derbyshire Dales book was actually published by Warne. I’m now regretting not buying Batsford’s England and Scottish Borders. Oh well, hopefully they’ll turn up at another time and place.

I bought the Dean’s Film-Lovers Annual from 1934 for the photos in it, some of very famous film stars such as Bogart and Edward G. Robinson and an awful lot that I had never heard of so I’ll be googling them. There are interesting photos of film sets too and a photo of Harold Lloyd’s sitting-room showing bookcases full of books. I’d love to be able to see what they are.

In a Summer Season by Elizabeth Taylor

In a Summer Season by Elizabeth Taylor was first published in 1961.

In a Summer Season cover

Kate Heron is a wealthy middle aged English woman, married for the second time to Dermot, a handsome and much younger Irishman. Her first husband had died and Dermot had been mooching around the house when her husband was ill, despite the fact that the husband didn’t like him. The friends from her first marriage obviously don’t approve of Kate’s remarriage and so she ends up spending her time accompanying Dermot to the pub. He drinks far too much and gambles too, he’s shiftless, sticking at no job for more than a few weeks and now seemingly not even looking for work, but Kate is besotted with him, it seems she’s in lust with him which is un-Taylor like, although it’s a good long time since I read any of her books so I may be mis-remembering.

I began this book thinking it wasn’t as good as I had remembered Elizabeth Taylor’s other books to be but ended up enjoying it nonetheless. I think the lust put me off for a wee while!

There’s a book which is mentioned often in this one called The Spoils of Poynton by Henry James, but I kept thinking to myself – if only Kate had read Elizabeth von Arnim’s book Love – she would have known not to marry a much younger man. Of course now I’m going to have to read the Henry James book.

Elizabeth Taylor’s books are beautifully written and should be read closely so as not to miss the little details, such as the family aversion to charm bracelets and the type of woman who wore them.

Kate’s children Tom and Louise and various other characters, not forgetting Aunt Ethel all add up to a good read.

There’s a Guardian article Rediscovering Elizabeth Taylor, if you’re interested.

Christmas Books

Christmas Books

Above is a photo of the books which I bought over the weeks before Christmas – and said to Jack, just wrap those up for me! After so many years it isn’t crucial to get a sumptuous present and I’m in the happy position of not really needing or wanting anything expensive.

You’ll have noticed that my cache of books leans heavily towards children’s publications, that was just luck or serendipity, not something which I set out to do.

1. Crime Out Of Mind by Delano Ames. He was a 2014 discovery for me and I’ve read a few of his books, I’ve enjoyed them all and this is another Dagobert and Jane book, his married sleuths, so I have high hopes of it. It was published in 1956.

2. Sir Gibbie by George MacDonald. First published in 1879 this is a children’s book by a Scottish writer who used to be very popular but is now hardly read.

3. Love by Elizabeth von Arnim, published in 1925. I already have a copy of this but I had to buy this one when I saw it in its green binding, I have most of her other books in this guise and my other copy of Love is a modern paperback.

4. Doctor Dolittle’s Post Office by Hugh Lofting, first published in 1924. This is another children’s author which I missed completely as a youngster. There are a lot of books in the series and the Doctor Dolittle film was based on them.

5. Whizz for Atomms by Geoffrey Willans and Ronald Searle, published in 1956. I bought this because of the Ronald Searle cartoons, it’s a similar idea to the St Trinian’s books, it looks like a good laugh.

6. In a Summer Season by Elizabeth Taylor, published in 1961. I have read a fair few of her books and enjoyed them.

7. Chitty Chitty Bang Bang by Ian Fleming, this is an omnibus of the three stories which Fleming wrote in 1964 – 1965, but this book was published in 1971. I’ve already blogged about this one.

8. Not a Bad Lad by Michael Morpurgo and illustrated by Michael Foreman, published in 2010. I’ve not read anything by Morpurgo yet (I think) and it’s about time I did but to be honest I would have bought this book just for the illustrations because I’m a Foreman fan.

9. Last but definitely not least is Edmund Dulac’s Picture Book for the French Red Cross, published in 1915. As it says on the front cover, all profits on sale given to the Croix Rouge Francaise, Comite de Londres. Obviously to help with the First World War casualties. I was lucky to get this one at St Andrews for a reasonable price, there are people online asking silly money for it. Some of the stories are old faithfulls like Cinderella but there are a lot which I hadn’t heard of before. The illustrations are lovely and if you are interested you can download it free from Project Gutenberg here.

Blaming by Elizabeth Taylor

Blaming by Elizabeth Taylor was a random choice from one of the many local libraries which I’m now using. It is decades since I read any books by Taylor although I remember that I really enjoyed the ones I did read.

I found this one to be a bit depressing though, possibly because it was written when the author knew that she was dying and was racing to get it finished.

I didn’t like any of the characters, which makes it difficult to really enjoy a book. Thankfully there are quite a few comic moments though.

Nick and Amy are a middle-class, middle-aged couple from London. Nick, an artist is recovering from a serious illness and they’re on a cruise. Just as Nick begins to believe that he is going to survive his illness – he dies, leaving Amy in a state of shock on her own. She decides to get off the ship at Istanbul and take his body back to London for the funeral, and a young American woman Martha, who had befriended them both decides to leave the ship too and help her with her sad task.

From then on it’s about how Amy copes with her loneliness, her family and the few friends in her life. She isn’t a people person however and to me seemed intolerant and ungrateful. The two young granddaughters are so well written, the youngest one, Isobel, is absolutely ghastly, a four year old drama queen in need of a skelp or two.

The most enjoyable part of the book was the afterword which was written by Elizabeth Taylor’s daughter Joanna Kingham. She describes her mother with such love, we could all have been doing with a mother like hers. Amongst other things she said:

Naturally I am proud of her work, but she had other talents. Her kindness, passionate desire to see people treated fairly, wonderful sense of humour, love and loyalty to her family.
It was great fun being her daughter – no one else has been able to reduce me to such a weeping state of giggles over the most ordinary, everyday events.

A Dedicated Man by Elizabeth Taylor

A Dedicated Man cover

This is a Virago publication and another one from my 2011 Reading List which I hadn’t realised until I started to read it is actually a book of short stories. I’ve only read novels by Elizabeth Taylor previously and really liked her writing and her short stories are equally good.

It’s usually her cousin Katherine Mansfield who is held up as a great short story writer and I have a copy of her stories which have been reprinted by Folio Books. I used to be in the Folio Book Club mainly because their books are always so beautifully produced. But I would say that Elizabeth Taylor is just as good as her cousin.

In common with Mansfield and Daphne du Maurier quite a lot of the short stories are set at holiday locations and I hadn’t noticed it until now but I suppose it is a good subject for writing about – people watching on holiday.

The blurb on the back says:
‘Like Jane Austen, like Barbara Pym, like Elizabeth Bowen – soul-sisters all – Elizabeth Taylor made it her business to to explore the quirky underside of so-called civilisation.‘ – Anne Tyler

The introduction is by Joanna Kingham, Elizabeth Taylor’s daughter and it also contains an interview of her mother which appeared in her local paper The Bucks Free Press in 1971.