There are some novels that you want to start read again as soon as you’ve finished it. To appreciate the finer details, unravel sub-text, and simply to admire. A Wreath of Roses by Elizabeth Taylor had that effect on me.
It is described in reviews as ‘her darkest novel’. What fascinated me was the inter-play between the three key female characters, how they see each other, and themselves, how they behave individually and together. Multiple contradictions complicated by self-delusions and self-awareness. I don’t mean to seem cryptic. The story is simple, as is often the way with Taylor.
In that period after the Second World war when life begins to look normal, the undercurrents of the war experience are everywhere. Camilla and Liz are staying with Frances, Liz’s former governess, for their annual summer holiday. It is a habit forged by years with happy memories of podding peas and sharing stories. Except this year is different. Liz is now married and has brought her baby, Harry. Frances, an artist, is now painting dark tortured pictures rather than feminine florals and portraits. And Camilla has a shocking experience on her journey to stay with Frances; she witnesses a suicide at a train station that makes her melancholy, lonely and inadequate. She looks at herself in the dressing table mirror, ‘Her flesh was golden as an apricot; her hair, in contrast, looked tarnished and harshly bright.’
Taylor inserts three male characters as wedges into the cosiness of the three women. Camilla resents Arthur, Liz’s husband, for taking her friend away. Richard Elton, who with Camilla is there when the suicide happens, is staying at a pub in the village. Camilla feels sorry for him and at the same time attracted to him and will not listen to Liz’s instinctive uneasiness about him. Morland Beddoes is a collector of Frances’ work, he arrives in the village and stays at the same pub as Elton; he too feels uneasy about the man’s motivations. A friendly sort who finds himself the recipient of peoples’ woes, ‘Morland Beddoes was not in the last self-infatuated. He loved himself only as much as self-respect required, and the reason why he saw himself so clearly was that he looked not often, but suddenly, so catching himself unawares.’
This is a dark novel, but not in today’s meaning of psychological thriller. It is a study of ageing, friendship, the power of sexual tension, and it is sublimely written.
Here are my reviews of Angel, At Mrs Lippincote’s and The Sleeping Beauty, also by Elizabeth Taylor.
If you like this, try:-
‘All My Puny Sorrows’ by Miriam Toews
‘We Are Water’ by Wally Lamb
‘All the Birds, Singing’ by Evie Wyld
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A WREATH OF ROSES by Elizabeth Taylor #bookreview https://wp.me/p5gEM4-3uV via @SandraDanby