Tag Archives: women writers

#BookReview ‘The Sleeping Beauty’ by Elizabeth Taylor #classic #love

Reading this novel is like taking a long deep breath of air when your lungs are bursting. The Sleeping Beauty by Elizabeth Taylor is about beauty and is loosely based on the fairy story – a man rescuing a woman – but with real people who have faults, irritations, fantasies and vanities, whose prejudices and past lives inconveniently do not go away. Elizabeth Taylor

In the small seaside town of Seething, Vinny Tumulty visits an old friend, Isabella, whose husband has recently died. He wants to support her through difficult times, but Isabella fancies she is falling in love with him. Vinny, however, sees a stranger walking on the beach and, without seeing her clearly, knows she is beautiful. We learn later that Emily’s face has been reconstructed, plastic surgery necessary after a car accident caused by her drunken brother-in-law. Emily’s widowed sister Rose tells Vinny that, since her accident, Emily looks and behaves like a completely different person. To Rose, Emily’s face is untrue; to Vinny, it is beautiful.  He becomes obsessed with her. ‘My plans for today are to hang about hoping for a glimpse of her, to have my heart eaten away by the thought of her; to feel my blood bounding maddeningly, ridiculously, like a young boy’s; to despair; to realise the weight of my misery and hunger with each step I take.’

Vinny is in his fifties but behaves as if this is his first love. In contrast, Isabella’s son twenty-something Laurence picks up a girl at the cinema. Not knowing how to make the first move and kiss her, he experimentally takes Betty’s hand. ‘Her skin was rough, her nails so short that he wondered if she bit them, and hoped she did. He did not want a young lady too tranquil, too defined.’ This scene is mirrored later when Emily is top-and-tailing gooseberries; she puts her hand into the basket as Vinny does too, and they touch. ‘He felt the involuntary tremor before the tension, the shocked leap of her blood which she could not control. ‘Even her arms are blushing,’ he thought.’

Is Laurence falling in love with reality, and Vinny with an image? Neither knows the woman he is courting, has hardly had a conversation with her. It is halfway through the novel before Emily says more than a single sentence at a time. Taylor shows the gradual, patient steps that Vinny takes towards Emily; brief words exchanged, moments of silence stretching ahead. It is a cautious middle-aged love where hope of finding love has long passed. There is a sensuality, a thin seedling struggling to grow despite the aridity of the earth.

As usual, Taylor is excellent on everyday detail of people and things. ‘The streets were almost empty. An obviously betrothed couple stood looking in at the lighted window of a furniture shop at a three-piece suite labelled ‘Uncut Moquette’.’ And I loved the scene where Isabella and her friend Evalie are checking the racing results and doing tapestry badly, with their faces covered with clay face packs; and Laurence enters the room, bemused. This is a slow, contemplative novel, beautifully written, which in places made me stop and smile.

Read my reviews of Taylor’s Angel, A View of the Harbour, A Wreath of Rosesand At Mrs Lippincote’s.

If you like this, try:-
‘Mobile Library’ by David Whitehouse
‘A Life Between Us’ by Louise Walters
‘The Gustav Sonata’ by Rose Tremain

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Book review: Poor Caroline

Winifred HoltbyI can’t help but think this novel would be helped by a better title. Poor Caroline is such a negative sounding title for this, the fourth novel by Yorkshire author Winifred Holtby. From the first page, it is clear this is a fond but sharp satire of the inter-war years showing how the expectations of people can on the surface appear aligned but in reality are self-serving.

Caroline Denton-Smyth, honorary secretary of the Christian Cinema Company, works hard in the belief that her company is doing good. But the people on the board of directors each have their own reason for being involved with the company, reasons that are not admitted and which diverge hugely from Caroline’s intentions. One hopes to leverage connections with the chairman to gain entrance for his son to Eton. Another wishes to sell his new type of film. Caroline has so many ideas but little success. At the age of 72 she has no money and is dependent on loans from long-suffering relatives. But she is always hopeful. This is the story of Caroline, her fellow directors, and the Christian Cinema Company. Holtby tells the story of each person in turn so the full picture, and the extent of Caroline’s folly, becomes evident. You can’t help but feel simultaneously sorry for her and exasperated with her inability to see the truth.

It is a while before we meet the eponymous heroine. First we learn of her death, as some distant relatives return from her funeral. In her will, Caroline left bequests of money she didn’t have. “Oh, you can’t alter people like Caroline. She always thought she knew better than anyone. She was always going to do something extraordinary.”

Two scenes in particular stayed with me. The description of the odious Clifton Roderick Johnson’s screenwriting class is a classic. He spits instructions to his paltry four students. ‘They did not know, and indeed Mr Johnson hardly knew, that their lecturer who spoke so confidently of technique, cuts, drama and royalties had himself been able to sell for performance only one scenario and a set of captions.’ And the storm at film inventor Hugh Macafee’s derelict warehouse when he continues to work despite the efforts of two fellow directors to evacuate him before a wall collapses.

This novel requires patience, to allow the author time to draw the full scenario so the true manipulations, fraud, dissembling and love, can unfold.

Click here for my review of Holtby’s first novel, Anderby Wold. Read more about Sarah Burton, who features in South Riding.

If you like this, try:-
‘Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day’ by Winifred Watson
‘Curtain Call’ by Anthony Quinn
‘Highland Fling’ by Nancy Mitford

‘Poor Caroline’ by Winifred Holtby [UK: Virago]

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
POOR CAROLINE by Winifred Holtby#bookreview https://wp.me/p5gEM4-3nn via @SandraDanby