Sunday, April 3, 2011

A Wreath of Roses by Elizabeth Taylor

'The man from the train was there, as she had supposed he would be.  He was leaning over the bar questioning the barman about the town, the district.  It seemed to Camilla puzzling that his sentimental journey should have ended in a place to which he was so much a stranger.'
While waiting on the platform for her train, Camilla witnesses a tragic event.  Upset, she finds distraction in the company of a young man with movie star good looks named, Richard. 

Arriving at her destination she is met by her childhood friend, Liz, and together they set off for the flint cottage belonging to their once governess, Frances.  Almost immediately there is friction between the young women as Liz is now married with a baby and things will never be carefree between the friends again.

While Liz is busy fretting over every cry the baby makes, Camilla finds her thoughts drifting towards Richard and soon has the perfect excuse to visit the hotel where he is staying.  Frances is a painter and has an admirer of her work in the rotund bachelor, Morland Beddoes.  Being non-judgmental, a keen observer and great listener he has many visitors to his flat to drink his brandy and unload tales of woe.  He writes to Frances that he must finally meet the woman who painted the portrait which hangs in his room and gives him hours of enjoyment.  Mr Beddoes has been so kind to Frances but the spinster is apprehensive to share her safe haven and sends Camilla to meet him at the train station.

Place these characters in a cottage together and add a handsome insane man who is staying nearby and Taylor's writing has an outlet to soar.  This novel is described as her darkest and I can well see why.  Quite often there is an element of wanting to reach out and stop someone the way you do when a child is about to cross a road and a car suddenly comes around the corner.  There was one passage which showed a glimpse of the author's humour though when she names a wretched housekeeper with an unalterable time-table, Mrs Taylor.  Nearing the conclusion I found myself trying to slow down the pace but it was both riveting and terrifying.  High drama on a big screen couldn't have had me holding my breath any better.

It had been my intention to read Taylor's entire oeuvre before ordering a copy of Nicola Beauman's, The Other Elizabeth Taylor, but this novel left me anxious to know more about the woman behind the pen and now!  Her descriptions of loneliness, wanting to break free from the restrictions placed on women by society, the power of men over women were obviously written by a woman who felt a great deal and who possessed exceptional insight.  I now find myself faced with the horrible knowledge that Taylor's collection is finite and each unread story I pull from my shelf from now on will be both something to look forward to and something to dread.


  1. I felt bereft when I'd finished the last one, Darlene - but I still haven't got round to reading the biography.

  2. So many great books to come though Darlene :) Wonderful review of this one. She's such a readable writer (if that makes any sense!) I think.

  3. I have attempted a couple of Elizabeth Taylor novels but not quite managed to 'get into' them. Must try harder as I know she is very well regarded.
    Margaret P

  4. Every time I read one of your E. Taylor reviews, I find myself saying "I must read her work". I really must read her work!! :)

  5. Gosh, this doesn't sound at all like I expected it to, but still very interesting. I'm also always intrigued when authors name characters after themselves - with a Mrs. Taylor AND a Liz, ET went overboard...

  6. This sounds like quite a powerful novel and perhaps even more complex than some of the other ETs I've read so far.
    I know exactly what you mean about a finite number of books. I have had to pace myself with some authors but sometimes you just want to read them all in one go, you love them so much... and then you wish you hadn't as there aren't anymore to look forward to!
    It's a quandary :-)

  7. It's a sad feeling when you finish a beloved author's last work, but rereading is like visiting an old friend. I'm looking forward to my first Taylor... soon!

  8. Thanks for this review! I love ET but have not read this one -- I am pacing myself because I don't want to run out too soon. I've read the biog -- very interesting -- I'd say go for it now before you read any more as it has shed an interesting light on the novels of hers I've read since.

  9. mary, Would you like to read it one day or do you prefer not knowing? Apologies for the wonky post when you commented, my computer was doing silly things which almost had me chucking it through the front window!

    ramblingfancy, It absolutely makes sense, Donna! Her writing is so clean and succinct.

    galant, Oh I do hope that you find your way with Taylor's work one day.

    makedoandread, You can always save her for down the road but please do try one of her books, Kate. I'm sure you would love them as much as I do!

    StuckInABook, I know! The title is very pretty and the reference comes very late in the book but it is such a good read. Save the ending for a dark stormy night if you can, Simon!

    Cristina, Books read differently as we age so perhaps a reread every five years or so will reveal new understanding. Look at the mileage people get from Austen's small collection!

    JoAnn, You are so right! I've just been visiting over at yours, you have enough to keep you busy for awhile.

    harriet, That is exactly what I was thinking. I have this feeling that the tone of some of her writing is coming from things she was going through at the time and call me nosy but I'm very intrigued!

  10. I've got it here on my desk, Darlene. Bought it as soon as it came out which is maddening, because I still haven't got round to reading it - and I see there's now a pristine copy in the library which nobody has ever checked out. I started it, then put it to one side until I'd finished reading all of the novels. And then I think it fell victim to my prissiness about Persephones, ie not bending spines, not jamming them into my handbag, never, ever reading them in the bath.
    Which explains why there's at least half a dozen of them lying around here unread. Stupid, isn't it?

  11. Oh Darlene! You have made me desperate to read this! I have collected nearly all of Elizabeth Taylor's books but read barely any of them - one good thing about leaving New York will be being reunited with my books and being able to read all this British fiction you have been taunting me with! Fantastic review - I hope you have ordered that biography!

  12. mary, Not silly at all, in fact, I share the same prissiness. They are the only books I put down to have a tea break, no chocolate biccies near my Persephones!

    bookssnob, The bio is winging its way to me as I write. You would absolutely adore this book, Rachel, it's lovely and creepy all rolled into one!