Friday, November 12, 2010

A Game of Hide and Seek by Elizabeth Taylor

It was around two and a half years ago that I first held this book in my hand but I didn't buy it.  Flipping through the pages of Virago's beautiful cloth-covered anniversary edition I thought the story sounded charming enough but who was this Taylor woman?  Tucking a copy of Diary of a Provincial Lady under my arm instead, so began a reading venture which left me besotted with a certain group of women authors.  Feeling in a small way as though I've come full circle, Elizabeth Taylor is now one of them.

A Game of Hide and Seek is not so simply, a love story.  Harriet and Vesey discover love's first blush as teenagers.  Taylor is superb at showing us every glance, sigh and furrowed brow as we feel all the twinges of emotion between these two.  There were so many instances of delightful phrasing or poignant moments that I scribbled a page and a half of notes!  Showing a keen wit, Taylor had me laughing out loud one day on a train station platform when some shop girls decide to try hot wax to rid themselves of some facial hair:

     'On the upper lip first, dear,' Miss Brimpton advised Harriet.  'Slightly downy, if I might say so,' Miss Lazenby said dreamily.  'I call mine a bloody moustache.'
     'Well, that's up to you, dear, what you call it.  No one else implied anything.  It really does smart at first, doesn't it.  I hope the juniors don't come up.'
     Harriet obediently spread the melting wax round her mouth.
     'I'm doing my beard as well,' Miss Lazenby said recklessly.
'Has that soup caught, Lovelace?  Something smells funny.'
     'Now rip it off,' Miss Brimpton commanded.
     'You do it first, Harriet.'
     'I can't.  I'm afraid.'

Vesey was destined to be an actor with his dramatic airs and over the top gestures as a young man. 

     He would smoke with his head out of the bedroom window.  In his mother's room one day he put on her jewellery, sniffed at her scent, varnished his nails, read a book on birth control, took six aspirins, then lay down like Chatterton on the window seat, his hand drooping to the floor.
     When the housekeeper returned, he had half-opened his eyes.  'I am doing away with myself,' he had said.  'I have supped my full of horrors.'

Adorable as this behaviour is on a boy, Vesey is a bit of a Peter Pan in that he seems reluctant to grow up.  Parting ways, Harriet gets on with her life, marrying a reliable older man, having a child and running a household.  Events will bring Harriet and Vesey together every now and then over the years and with a simple 'hello', any other characters fall to the wayside.  I was that riveted by the bond between Harriet and Vesey.

Some of my favourite scenes in this book were funny ones but this is not a humourous story.  There is turmoil, responsibility, failure, expectation, denial and desire.  A roller coaster of emotion written by an author so talented that I was laughing on one page and deeply moved by something on the next.

The ending was subtle and yet rich, with just enough theatrics that I imagined heavy red velvet curtains swishing across the last page.  Without a doubt, there is more to be gleaned from this story upon a second reading.  A wonderful story, a brilliant author.


  1. I want to go back and read all of them, Darlene. She's wonderful.

  2. I'm about 6 pages into this and have already found her writing to be luscious. Can't wait to read the rest!

  3. I still have yet to read my first Elizabeth Taylor, but I'll get there eventually!

  4. I'm just about to start this, and your description makes me want to hurry up and do that!

  5. mary, And I really, really need to add more of her work to my bookshelves! Have you read Nicola's biography of Taylor yet?

    aworldinthemselves, You are so right! I don't think I've reread so many sentences in a book before for sheer loveliness or wit.

    Carolyn, You're in for a treat when you do!

    Audrey, I'm sure you know about Cornflower's book group...this book is up for discussion on Nov 20. It would be lovely if you stopped by!

  6. I bought it when it came out, Darlene, started it, then put it on one side because I still hadn't read Palladian and it seemed to make sense to finish the novels first. And then somehow I didn't get going again. It's still by the side of my bed but I'll have to go back to the beginning and start again, I think.

  7. PS Will be interested to see if you finish Few Eggs and No Oranges!

  8. mary, I'm hoping to pick up Nicola's biography of Taylor when next in London. Hopefully, she will even sign it for me!

    2010 seems to be my year for reading a fair few chunky books. I bet you I finish!

  9. Maybe you'll inspire me to pick it up again. I got bored with it.

  10. I still haven't read anything by Taylor but this is the one I've had my eye on. Can't wait to eventually get my hands on a copy and read it!

  11. mary, Loving it so much that this morning I have a kink in my neck from reading too long last night.

    thecaptivereader, Grab a copy of this the next chance you get!

  12. I am so annoyed with myself for collecting all of Taylor's novels after reading Angel and then reading hardly any of them. They are all back in England now, gathering dust! I'll have to have a Taylor-fest when I return next year. So glad you are loving her and I hope you will read more. The biography also sounds wonderful but like Mary I don't want to read it until I've read all her novels.

  13. What a shame you didn't g et one of the cloth bound copies- they're collectors items!

  14. verity, I was at The World's Biggest Bookstore yesterday in Toronto...they had one!

  15. bookssnob, The beauty of books and bookshelves is that they'll keep. A Taylor-fest is something to look forward too! I've been neglecting my Persephone collection and need to spend some time with them so I know just how you feel.

  16. I pulled my copy out--ready to read along, but it's just not happened (too many library books again). However, maybe this will be the book I pick for my upcoming break (all of five days--a long weekend) from work! I think Elizabeth Taylor is marvelous--so subtle, too. Once you've read one, you want to read them all!

  17. Danielle, This was a fab read so I hope you do manage it. I'm so glad that you have a block of time off work, you're always so busy...enjoy!

  18. Wonderful review. I have not read anything by Elizabeth Taylor, but I will have to add this to my to-read list. By the way, I love the name of your blog too! :)