Friday, 17 February 2012

A Game of Hide and Seek by Elizabeth Taylor

Looking at the map of your inner England, to remark to your companion 'I think we're in the Home Counties Darling' would be true by GPS but false if one expects rood screens and 'where did I leave my cycle clips'. No, Elizabeth Taylor's Dramatis Personae have a more complex anguish than ever disrupted a garden fete. The novel opens at the shabby Victorian house of Hugo and Caroline over whose children the 18 year old Harriet has a supervisory role she combines with typing. The relationships between all the parties in this novel are complex and god forgive me, inter-generational.
Vesey's aunt, the mother of Joseph and Deirdre was Harriet's mother's closest friend. As young women (a smudged photograph recorded this) they had once been hustled, gripped above the elbows by policemen, up the steps of a police-station. In the background, shop-windows showed great holes like black stars. Harriet, not able to bear this picture nor to ignore it, heedless of former sacrifice, as history makes all of us, saw only that her mother had exposed herself to mockery and ridicule, that she looked ugly, wild, a little mad, her mouth a little open, her had sideways. And Vesey's Aunt Caroline the same.
Vesey is Harriet's 'cycling fish' if you will. He is also 18 and has been parked with his aunt for the summer. Harriet falls in love with him but he then leaves and doesn't write. All during her subsequent marriage with Charles who is a much older man, she holds him in her heart. Harriet has to regularly wring out her hanky. This sounds I know like the elocution sentences that she might have had to repeat in school. ‘Vowels gels’. Harriet is a weeper and at a critical moment with her husband as she begins to overflow he thinks in an uncharacteristic moment of disloyalty that she is a terrible whiney woman. About Charles:
Charles was much respected in the little town where he worked. Solid, serious, astute, he was a strange son for his mother to have borne, people felt. That she was an embarrassment to him, they could easily understand: that there was war between them few realised - war which, stimulated Julia and bore her up; but which had effects of prolonged nervous strain upon her son.
Julia was an actress at the top of her profession. She cannot leave off her actressy ways and Taylor has fun with these. Her son looks out the window and sees her coming up the garden path.
His mother came up the path with a red and silvery cabbage in one hand, a knife in the other. She held the cabbage away from her, as if it were some loathed thing. It might have been John the Baptist's head so dramatically did she carry it.
Vesey who has receded from view in the novel is the worm at the heart of Charles's marriage. He is that great invisible planet that perturbs. After 16 years he turns up and and it looks as though the un may be subtracted from the unrequited. That is the second half of the novel. A passing reference is made to the film Brief Encounter. This novel is very fine, in its observation, precise and she's also kind to men.

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