A Wreath of Roses by Elizabeth Taylor

I feel like Elizabeth Taylor gets overlooked.

I don’t mean this Taylor:

I mean this one:

If you don’t know her work, think Nancy Mitford’s sharp commentary on society meets Richard Yates’s angst meets Anita Brookner’s self-contained female characters.

Taylor’s stories are consistently good – there’s an evenness about her style that is dependable and recognisable and yet her stories are not predictable.  A Wreath of Roses is no exception. Often regarded as her ‘darkest’ novel, it’s the story of Camilla, who is spending the summer with her long time friends, Liz – who is now married with a baby – and Frances, an ageing artist who was once Liz’s governess.

The routines of previous summers are disrupted by the intrusion of various men – Liz’s husband, Arthur, who visits when his work as a vicar allows; Frances’s acquaintance, Morland, who visits to see her paintings; and Richard Elton, a handsome stranger who, against her better judgement, Camilla becomes involved with, driven by her anxiety that she will become a spinster.

…she felt she was escaping, escaping Liz and Frances, escaping the two she loved, probably, most in her life, and avoiding the long, leisurely morning she had looked forward to in other years, the endless, sunny, gossipy, holiday morning, with the apples to peel, peas to shuck, coffee under the mulberry tree, shopping at the post-office. What had seemed plenty in other years, now appeared threadbare.

There are some excellent plot twists but as always with Taylor, satisfaction is derived from her observations about relationships; her interpretation of loneliness; and the remarkable way she variously reveals the interior and exterior of people’s lives. Frances thinks –

‘No one ever came to me,’ she thought. ‘I never lay in bed and talked to anyone. But I felt tenderness for people, and love. I hid it, though, with my prim ways as soon Camilla will, and from the same motives, fear and pride. Pride does not come before a fall. Nothing happens after pride. It closes the way.

Taylor elegantly folds meaning into every scene, even something as simple as an observation about the weather –

A word or two would have put them at ease, but there were no words to say. The heat of the afternoon was beyond comment and could not draw them together as hailstones might have done.

4/5 If you’re yet to read Taylor, A Wreath of Roses would be an ideal place to start.

They went downstairs. Arthur was drinking rhubarb wine in the parlour. His life was full of such little duties…

I started looking at recipe for rhubarb wine (I love rhubarb) but when I found one for rhubarb gin, well, obviously my search ended there.

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10 responses

    • I think she found a new wave of readers when they ‘re-packaged’ her novels, gave them new intros etc. There’s still a few I haven’t read but keeping them up my sleeve for when I next hit a bit of a reading slump.

  1. Pingback: A Family Romance by Anita Brookner | booksaremyfavouriteandbest

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