A Wreath of Roses by Elizabeth Taylor

“Afternoons seem unending on branch-line stations in England in summer time. The spiked shelter prints an unmoving shadow on the platform, geraniums blaze, whitewashed stones assault the eye. Such trains as come only add to the air of fantasy, to the idea of the scene being symbolic or encountered at one level while suggesting another even more alienating.”

Three women spend a week together in the country. They have done this for many years, but this year something has changed.

Liz has married and she has a baby son, but she is uncertain in the role of wife and mother. Camilla is a school secretary, and she is acutely aware that her frien’d life has changed while hers has not. Frances, their hostess, used to be Liz’s governess before she became an artist, and her increasing awareness of her mortality is beginning to influence her painting.

They all know that things have changed, but not one of them will admit it.

The plot is moved forward by the arrivals of three men.

Liz’s husband comes to reclaim her for just a little while. Frances meets an admirer of her work, a man she has corresponded with for many years, for the first time. And Camilla forms a relationship with a man she has doubts about, a man she met at the station when they were both witnesses to a tragedy.

The plot is light, but it is enough.

The joy of this book is in Elizabeth Taylor’s crystal clear drawing of her characters and their relationships, in the perectly realised world she creates for them in the country, and in the profound truths she illuminates.

Elizabeth Jane Howard, writing about another of Elizabeth Taylor’s novels, expresses it so much better than I can:

“… this book displays the full spectrum of her talents – the economy with which she can present a character, the skill with which she build the environment and the daily lives of her people so that you feel you know exactly what they might be doing even when they are not on the scene, her delicious funniness which is born of her own unique blend of humanity and razor-sharp observation that enables her to be sardonic, devastating, witty and sly, but mysteriously without malice …”

This is a book that will draw you in, take possession of your heart and soul, and linger long after you turn the final page.

There is so much that could be said, but I don’t have the words.

Others have said much so very well: Nicola Beauman in ‘The Other Elizabeth Taylor,’ Susannah Clapp in the introduction to the first virago edition, Helen Dunmore in the introduction to the new Virago edition …

I just want to think and feel.

If you have read the book you will understand, and if you haven’t I have a brand new copy to give away. Just tell me what it is you love about Elizabeth Taylor, or what it is that draws you to her writing.

And remember that the celebrations for Elizabeth Taylor’s centenary  are ongoing here.

9 responses

  1. Lovely review, Jane. This book has just arrived (from England), so I think I will read it sooner as a result of your review.

    • This was the book that made me realise how good Elizabeth Taylor was, so I shall be very disappointed if you don’t love it.

  2. I have not read this nor any Elizabeth Taylor book .But I have three on my tbr shelves following the many enthusiastic recommendations I have read on various blogs.

  3. I haven’t read Elizabeth Taylor (yet), but I think I would love her work. I’m infatuated with that fantasy England, between the wars, long summer days, lawn tennis and gauzy summer dresses. “Afternoons seem unending on branch-line stations in England in summer time. The spiked shelter prints an unmoving shadow on the platform, geraniums blaze, whitewashed stones assault the eye. Such trains as come only add to the air of fantasy …”

    I would love to have this book, and be transported to the world she limns so carefully.

  4. I’ve read most of ET’s novels but not this one. I enjoy her perceptions of character. In my favourite of her books, At Mrs Lippincote’s, I love the way she describes the characters in subtle ways that encapsulate them in just a phrase or a scene. I also love her sly humour.

  5. Jane, I just wanted to pop in and thank you for hosting the May readalong. I loved your personal reflections on how you came to love Taylor, and your fine review of the novel. Thank you!!!

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