Synopses & Reviews
The mid-twentieth century British novelist Elizabeth Taylor numbered among her admirers Elizabeth Bowen, Ivy Compton-Burnett, and Kingsley Amis. She also regularly published stories in The New Yorker
for close to two decades. For all that, her work, as steely as it is delicate, remains the secret of a small number of intensely devoted readers. The publication of her finest novel, A Game of Hide and Seek,
long unavailable in the United States, should help to change that. This is an unabashed love story, capturing all the uncertainty and inevitability and deceptiveness of true love, tracking the shifting currents of emotional life, and never yielding to melodrama.
Set in Britain between the wars, a time of transition between old convention and new ways, the book has for a heroine Harriet, the only child of a suffragette, whom we meet as a shy and domestic and not especially smart or pretty girl. At eighteen she falls in love with Vesey, but after Vesey must go away, she marries another man, Charles, and bears a child. Then Vesey returns.
Love is at the center of the book, but so too is Taylor’s extraordinary knack for depicting characters. The minor figures in the book — from Harriet’s mother’s friend Caroline, with her progressive politics, to Charles, his coworkers, and his mother, to Betsy with her schoolgirl crush on her Greek teacher — are as memorable as the passion and heartache of Harriet and Vesey.
“Taylor has the genius of making her characters understood, sometimes with an almost frightening clarity, perhaps because she is compassionate as well as relentless in her delineation of them.” The New York Times
“Funny, savage and full of loneliness and suppressed emotion.” The Observer
"Presently reading Elizabeth Taylor's (no, not that one) A Game of Hide and Seek. She's a magnificent and — for the idiotic reason that she's very middle-class — underrated mid-20th-century writer, the missing link between Jane Austen and John Updike." David Baddiel, The Independent (London)
"Taylor is one of the hidden treasures of the English novel." Philip Hensher, Daily Telegraph (London)
"One of my all-time favorite authors." Sarah Waters, Sunday Times (London)
Harriet and Vesey meet when they are teenagers, and their love is as intense and instantaneous as it is innocent. But they are young. All life still lies ahead. Vesey heads off hopefully to pursue a career as an actor. Harriet marries and has a child, becoming a settled member of suburban society. And then Vesey returns, the worse for wear, and with him the love whose memory they have both sentimentally cherished, and even after so much has happened it cannot be denied. But things are not at all as they used to be. Love, it seems, is hardly designed to survive life.
One of the finest twentieth-century English novelists, Elizabeth Taylor, like her contemporaries Graham Greene, Richard Yates, and Michelangelo Antonioni, was a connoisseur of the modern world’s forsaken zones. Her characters are real, people caught out by their own desires and decisions, and they demand our attention. The be-stilled suburban backwaters she sets out to explore shimmer in her books with the punishing clarity of a desert mirage.
About the Author
Elizabeth Taylor (1912–1975) was born into a middle-class family in Berkshire, England. She held a variety of positions, including librarian and governess, before marrying a businessman in 1936. Nine years later, her first novel, At Mrs. Lippincote’s
, appeared. She would go on to publish eleven more novels, including Angel
(available as an NYRB Classic), four collections of short stories (many of which originally appeared in The New Yorker, Harper’s
, and other magazines), and a children’s book, Mossy Trotter
, while living with her husband and two children in Buckinghamshire. Long championed by Ivy Compton-Burnett, Barbara Pym, Robert Liddell, Kingsley Amis, and Elizabeth Jane Howard, Taylor’s novels and stories have been the basis for a number of films, including Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont
(2005), starring Joan Plowright, and François Ozon’s Angel
(2007). In 2013 NYRB Classics will publish a new selection of Taylor’s short stories.
Caleb Crain is the author of American Sympathy, a study of friendship between men in early American literature. He has written for The New Yorker, The New York Review of Books, and n+1. His novel Necessary Errors will be published in 2013.