In this, her sixth novel, Elizabeth Taylor took the bones of a fairy story and re-set it as a very human story, among other human stories, in an English seaside town.
Vinny, the hero, is visiting to offer help and support to an old friend, Isabella, who has been widowed. He does the job beautifully and Isabella, anxious about growing old on her own, fancies that she is beginning to fall in love with him.
Her son, Lawrence, on leave from the army, is less impressed.
And Vinny is falling in love with another. With a young woman he saw walking, alone, across the beach.
Emily lived at the town’s guest house with her widowed sister, Rose, and Rose’s disabled daughter. She’d had an independent life, but there had been a car accident. The physical injuries had healed but the mental scars had not. Maybe Vinny, in love for the first time, in his fifties, could be the man to rescue her …
Meanwhile, Isabella and her friend Evalie invest in beauty treatments, trying to hold on to youth and hope. Laurence, to his mother’s displeasure, embarks on a romance with Betty a nursery maid staying with her employers at Rose’s guest house. And Rose frets about how she would manage, should her sister marry.
The relationship between Vinny and Emily advances nicely. But Vinny has a secret that he dare not tell.
Elizabeth Taylor, of course, paints all of those characters, all of those lives, quite beautifully. Always showing, but never telling. I saw insecurities, I saw snobbery. But I understood; these were real, fallible human beings. In a few places I had doubts, but in the end there was nothing that I couldn’t accept.
Those doubts lead me to say that this is not my favourite of Elizabeth Taylor’s novels. I’d like to explain more, but to do that properly I would have to give away more of the plot than feels right.
My other concern was the balance between the characters: one more household, one more plotline, would have made the community and this seaside town so much more real for me. But I think that maybe what I wanted wasn’t what the author intended.
Whatever the case, I have to say that this is still a lovely book: beautifully written and with much to say about the human condition.
I must mention that Laura, who started this whole centenary celebration has a brand new copy of Elizabeth Taylor’s Complete Short Stories to give away in two days time. All of the stories already published by Virago and a few more that have been rediscovered.
And that those centenary celebrations continue in July with ‘Angel’, the book that made me fall in love with Elizabeth Taylor’s writing in the first place. Our host for the month is Alex, and she has some wonderful fun planned.