Monday, January 9, 2012

At Mrs Lippincote's by Elizabeth Taylor

'How happy we are' thought Julia.  The sunlight reflected in her teacup danced on the ceiling.  Oliver looked up and smiled.  "Vanish, angel!" he said, as he had done as a baby, and from habit she placed her hand over the top of her cup.'

I will no longer entertain the idea of feeling completely bereft upon completion of Taylor's oeuvre.  It will be my absolute pleasure to revisit each and every one of her books, gleaning ever more, time and time again.

The Davenants have arrived in a new town due to Roddy's most recent order from the RAF.  The furnished house they rent belongs to Mrs Lippincote who has made plans to stay elsewhere for the duration.  In a few eerily funny scenes her daughter, Phyllis, doesn't seem to understand that she can no longer appear unannounced and dig through her mother's belongings in the attic or closets.

While Roddy is busy being an officer, Julia Davenant fills her day running the house, looking after their son and spending a fair bit of time with the darning basket.  My image is one of Julia wearing a string of pearls and high heels while she does so.  When Roddy's spinster cousin, Eleanor, isn't busy with her fellow communists she dreams of just the sort of life Julia has.  Oh yes, she'd very much like Roddy all to herself.  Just to build in some tension, Eleanor has lived with the Davenants since her nervous breakdown. 

Usually a tedious household can be buffered somewhat by the presence of a child but a pale and sickly Oliver only adds to the strain.  His lack of robustness hardly impresses the alpha-male in Roddy and his weak frame worries Julia.  Delightfully for the reader though he loves books and there are all sorts of references to various authors and their works.

'In London, he would go every Saturday morning to the Public Library to look at a picture of Lorna Doone.  Some Saturdays it was not there, and he would go home again, wondering who had borrowed her, in what kind of house she found herself that weekend.'

While Julia may appear to be the dutiful wife she holds a bit of herself back for her own sake and I really enjoyed her character.  She ventures out the odd night rather than keep her husband company and is quite friendly with a couple of men.  One being the Wing Commander, who much to my pleasure knows his way with a ball of yarn and some knitting needles.  Julia might be guilty of the odd bout of hand-wringing but she holds her own when push comes to shove as it does during a twist towards the ending.

I've reached the midway point, this being my sixth Taylor novel from her list of twelve and she has yet to disappoint.  To celebrate the centenary of Taylor's birth there is a group of readers over at LibraryThing on the Virago Modern Classics forum reading one title per month if anyone is interested.  Up next for February, I believe, is Palladian.  Laura, from Musings is also an enthusiastic supporter of this event so keep an eye out for her posts!


  1. Just finished Palladian a week or so ago and loved it. It was my second Taylor. I liked A Game of Hide and Seek even more. Thanks for the post. I look forward to reading this one, too.

  2. I tried a handful of Elizabeth Taylor books for Virago Reading Week last year and could not get into any of them. And yet whenever I read one of your reviews, I am instantly convinced I should love them all! I'm going to say I was just in a cross mood last year when I rejected her books and plan to try again.

  3. I think this has been my favorite Taylor so far, and I've read a good many of them. Thanks for reminding me.

  4. I loved this one, too, Darlene - one of her best. But I'd happily go back and read all of them again. (Well, maybe not The Wedding Group which didn't seem to be ET on top form.)

  5. Great review Darlene! I am all the more impressed knowing this was her debut novel, and she finished it just as she was breaking off a long-term affair (this factoid gleaned from the outstanding bio by Nicola Beauman, The Other Elizabeth Taylor).

    For the centenary celebration we are reading all of her books in order of publication. So yes, Palladian is on for February.

  6. GirlsWannaRead, I remember standing on a train station platform and laughing out loud while reading the waxing scene in A Game of Hide and Seek. Glad you enjoyed Palladian, it's on my list!

    Claire, Don't give up! Perhaps give 'A Wreath of Roses' a try, it was quite suspenseful and had me scared out of my wits at one point! There also happened to be a thunderstorm roaring for effect at the time so perhaps that had something to do with it. But still...

    harriet, You have me thinking about which is my favourite so far...I just can't do it!

    mary, Don't you think ET would have been a terrific friend to chat over the fence with? Not sure what I'd do if she went on about communism though!

    laurasmusings, That bio is outstanding, I'm so glad that I bought it. I love the image of ET heading out to the pub or a tearoom to people watch. Who knows how many ended up as characters in her books without realizing it!?

  7. Darlene, I am embarrassed to admit that I have not read anything by Elizabeth Taylor. I was wondering which book you would recommend as your favorite by her.
    Sunday xx

  8. Sunday Taylor, Make room on your bookshelves! My introduction to Taylor was 'In A Summer Season'. After that I searched for and ordered everything I could get me hands on. 'A Game of Hide and Seek' is the title that Virago chose to reprint in their gorgeous cloth-bound anniversary editions so that says quite a lot I think. 'Blaming' was excellent and 'A Wreath of Roses' had me holding my breath at one point...I am no help at all am I!?

    Virago is reprinting Taylor's oeuvre and there are great deals on so that's where I would head. All the best!

  9. Fantastic review Darlene - I am going to get cracking on Elizabeth Taylor just as soon as I finish up with Mansfield Park!

  10. Hmm. I wonder if I still have time to join in--I love her work and it's been too long since I have read anything by her. You are inspiring me--and this sounds so good, too. Am off to find my copy....thanks (well, now sure the other books on my current reading pile are thanking you but, you know how it goes)! :)

  11. bookssnob, Thanks and I'm really enjoying your slant on Fanny...okay, that just sounds hilarious!

    Danielle, Like a kid in a candy store you are, my friend. Isn't it fun!?