Blaming – Elizabeth Taylor

I have been told by many a friend and reader of this blog that I ‘simply must read Elizabeth Taylor’. You can call me slow on the uptake but until I had done some research the only Elizabeth Taylor that I knew of was the actress. It happened that in the library the other week they had a lovely old copy of ‘Blaming’ by Elizabeth Taylor as they were ‘digging up forgotten gems from the basement’. I liked the cover, loved the fact no one had taken it out for about a decade and thinking of all the recommendations I promptly picked it up.

Not having previously read any Elizabeth Taylor novels before I didn’t really know what to expect from ‘Blaming’ if I am honest, maybe something a little twee.  The story opens in Istanbul where Amy and Nick are taking a holiday after his recovering of an illness, what it is we are never quite sure. Here they meet the American Martha, a novelist which they don’t know initially, who is travelling alone. Slowly but surely the three start to become acquainted and before they know it, or have even really consented to it, Amy and Nick find they are sharing a holiday with someone who was until recently a stranger.

“Nick was reading her book about Byzantine art. On the flyleaf was written ‘Dear Martha, I’ll miss you. Love, Simon.’ He and Amy had discussed this, for they couldn’t place Martha, though were less occupied with her than she with them. The three of them, knowing nothing of one another, were cast together by their language and nothing else.”

As the trip continues tragedy strikes, this could be a spoiler so you might want to stop reading or skip this paragraph though it does tell you on the blurb and happens early in the novel, when Nick dies in the night. Amy is left widowed and stranded alone in a foreign country with no one to help her or comfort her than Martha who almost relishes the role especially as an observer. Once back in England Martha tries to get into Amy’s life once more, and with reluctance though as an escape from her rather irritating family (both to the reader and Amy) slowly but surely she allows this friendship to blossom even though she doesn’t want it too and the two are drawn in to each others lives through a mixture of grief, guilt and blame.

I won’t say anymore about the plot as it’s a short book and I would recommend that you gave it a whirl yourself. Taylor never quite puts us into the heads of any of the characters, including Amy’s wonderful cook/parlour man Ernie who provides some brilliant and occasionally needed light relief when he appears on the page, yet she shows us just enough of their motives to see we need to read more and that not everything might be quite as it seems.

‘Blaming’ was actually Elizabeth Taylor’s last novel, in fact having done some research it was published posthumously in 1976 a year after her death. Her writing is beautiful yet sparse, no words are used that needn’t be. Initially though there doesn’t appear to be a huge plot there is so much going on. We observe people and what they do and how they react to circumstances learning how there is much more to every action, and indeed every page, than meets the eye.  along the lines of Jennifer Johnston and Anita Brookner, whose books I have enjoyed as much, Taylor is an author who watches the world and then writes about it with a subtly and emotion that seems to capture the human condition. 8.5/10

Now that I have read Taylor I think I am going to have to delve into her back catalogue for many more of her novels, so do recommend more if you have read her. I am also itching to read another Brookner or Johnston. Which other authors have you read where subtly wins over initial storylines? Is the observational a form of fiction you enjoy?

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15 Comments

Filed under Elizabeth Taylor, Review, Virago Books

15 responses to “Blaming – Elizabeth Taylor

  1. I LOVE Elizabeth Taylor. Angel is one of her best books IMO, the main protagonist is not at all likeable but it’s a gripping read.

  2. I read a review of this the other day… somewhere… can’t remember where. But it did make me want to read it, and it is on my shelf. I’ve read three by ET, my favourite so far being Angel. Check out Harriet Devine’s latest review for another ET novel.

    As for Brookner and Johnston, I have read nothing by either – but I did buy the latter’s Gingerbread Woman yesterday, as I think my book group will be reading it soon.

  3. Very glad you liked this! Now please let me recommend At Mrs Lippincote’s — not an enticing title but an excellent novel.

  4. I love E. Taylor. Her short stories are the best, I think – Virago published a great selection, ‘Dangerous Calm.’ And ‘Angel’ is my favourite of the novels.

    I’d liken her most to Georgina Hammick or Shena Mackay, for that subtlety and the devastating things she observes and subtly lets slip about her characters.

    Anita Brookner I can’t stand. I’m with Dirk Bogarde who thought she wrote too showily. He says somewhere in ‘Ever, Dirk’ that when he saw her in the street or at the corner shop in person he wanted to slap her. And all for having overly fussy prose and nothing going on!

  5. gaskella

    I’ve only read one so far and that was ‘In a summer season’ which was marvellous and razor sharp. I have several others in my pile but several people have recommended ‘A game of hide and seek’ to me.

  6. I discovered her last year as well. The first one I read was Blaming, like you. The readers of my review did recommend Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont and Angel. I agree it is a wonderful novel. I did also discover Jennifer Johnston last year. I’ve been to your blog before (never left a comment), I like it but it spooks me a bit as we use the same template.

  7. Read this recently and absolutely loved it. It was my third Taylor novel and I promptly ordered two more. Nicola’s bio is on my list as well, especially after reading that many of Dora and Isobel’s lines were taken from Taylor’s own episodes with her daughter. She sounds like a fascinating woman.

  8. Jo

    This is a new author for me. Although I have seen this book reviewed around the blogs I have been reading. Like you and probably many others saw Elizabeth Taylor and thought actress.

    Think I might give it a whirl at some point.

  9. I have a few Elizabeth Taylor novels in my extensive Virago collection but I’ve yet to read any; consensus generally -and from above- that Angel is one of her best.

    I really want to read The Other Elizabeth Taylor by Nicola Beauman’s so must read those novels soon.

  10. Norman

    I am so pleased to see awakening interest in Elizabeth Taylor’s writings. The new Biography by Nicola Beauman is essential reading. It clarifies Taylor’s lack of interest in plot. She was not interested in endless explanations concerning what people did, where they went or what they saw. She is much more interested in the inner motivations for such plot devices [rather like Shakespeare in this regard, whose plots are mostly second-hand.] Brookner’s view of plot is similar and Barbara Pym’s to a lesser degree.

    All of her short stories are piquant gems. Favourite novels are ” A Game of Hide and Seek”, “Angel” and “Mrs Palfrey at The Claremont” [also turned into a wonderful movie starring Anna Massey and Joan Plowright].

  11. Bet

    I LOVE Elizabeth Taylor! I haven’t read Blaming yet, but so far my favorites of hers are At Mrs Lippincote’s and In a Summer Season. I see several people have mentioned Angel as a favorite, but I didn’t enjoy that one nearly as much and I couldn’t make it through half an hour of the movie that was made of it. Oh well! We are all different…

  12. Bet

    Forgot to say that I’ve read the Nicola Beauman bio as well and found it fascinating after the first chapter (which was quite taken up with the grandparents- just couldn’t keep track of everyone).

  13. kimbofo

    I read ‘In a Summer Season’ a year or so ago, and quite enjoyed it, but wasn’t quite as brilliant as I’d expected. I think that’s because so many people had been singing ET’s praises to me, my expectations weren’t realistic. I do keep meaning to read more of her stuff, though.

    The plot/themes of ‘Blaming’ sounds similar to Nina Bawden’s ‘Woman of My Age’ which I read in 2009 — and loved. http://kimbofo.typepad.com/readingmatters/2009/02/a-woman-of-my-age-by-nina-bawden.html

  14. Pingback: Savidge Reads Books of 2011 – Part I | Savidge Reads

  15. I know this is an old blog but I just wanted to add my words of praise for Elizabeth Taylor. Like many, I’ve come late to her and I think that has been to my advantage. By middle age you’ve accumulated enough experiences to know that life is rarely black and white and to be human is to err. Again and again. She had a rare gift to describe characters with the lightest of touches and make you see the extraordinary in the ordinary.

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