Pillion Riders by Elisabeth Russell Taylor

“I do not remember how we were introduced – for we must have been – or any of the discussion that surely arose when I chose to travel with Jean-Claude rather than my husband. I can only recall – and this vividly – how, wearing my tight-skirted black velvet suit, my new pearl choker and the little half-veil that was so fashionable that year, I rode across Paris with my arms clasped tight around a man to whom I had not spoken and had not closely observed, yet to whom I felt inextricably bound.”

Opal was the only child of an elderly, widowed father. Not knowing quite what to do as his little girl grew up, he steered her towards marriage with a business associate.

Helmut was a good man. He was thoughtful, he was generous, he was fair. But he cast Opal as a pupil, a creation even, more than as a wife. And her feelings for him mirrored his for her.

A trip to Paris highlighted the differences between the pair: he wanted to whisk her around the city, to have her experience everything that Paris had to offer, while she wanted to walk, watch, listen, and slowly absorb the city’s character.

Here, and throughout the story Elisabeth Russell Taylor highlights differences, and choices beautifully.

It was hardly surprising that when Opal met a young protege of a friend of her husband she was drawn to him, that something happened between them. Paris came to life.

Opal was surprised that nobody noticed, nobody seemed concerned, but there undersurrents between the three men that were beyond her experience. She followed her heart, leaving her husband to live with Jean-Claude. And she was happy, enjoying the romance of living with a melancholic, struggling composer.

In time though, Opal gained understanding and maturity. She began to listen to her head as well as her heart.

A wonderful commission, and a move to the country, seemed a change for the better. But in the end it just emphasised the differences between the couple. Opal knew that she had to make a difficult decision …

I knew that it would come because there was a framing story. A friend spoke a name that Opal hadn’t heard for years, and it brought memories of her younger days to the surface.

And, of course, because this is a story that has been told many times, in so very many ways.

There was much to enjoy in this telling. Opal’s voice rang true. I saw her world, her circle, her relationship, her choices, so clearly.

The writing is lovely, the descriptive passages especially, and the perspective was beautifully realised. Yes, much to admire. But admire rather than love, because I couldn’t quite find the sense of engagement that books must offer if I am to love them.

And there came a point, when there were just too many themes and ideas for the story to support. All were worthwhile, none were wrong, it just felt that there was too much weighing a simple story. And so I was lost.

I do wish I could have got past that. I would have loved to know what happened in the next stages of Opal’s life, how she became the elderly lady looking back at her youth with the understanding that age and experience had given her.

It wasn’t to be.

When we parted company I was a little disppointed, but I was still able to say that I was glad we had met.

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