Thursday, May 24, 2012


She Still Had a Profitable Perfume Line, We Think

An Elizabeth Taylor who never married Richard Burton: Anne Helen Petersen's new alternate history novel, or a really good British writer you've never read?

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She's a really interesting writer - more grim and realistic than Barbara Pym (whom I worship). I suspect her name was/is a major handicap. Discovered her ... hm, ages ago, at the late lamented Virago Bookshop near Covent Garden in London. Am particularly fond of her short stories. You can preview at least some of her books at amazon.co.uk, to get a sense of her style.


@sudden_eyes What's a good place to start with Barbara Pym?


@sudden_eyes I read some of Elizabeth Taylor's books but for some reason I found them beautifully written but somewhat sterile and forgettable, rather like Anita Brookner. I found "Angel" the most enjoyable, perhaps because it was the most overtly comic?
But I wouldn't have thought to compare her to Barbara Pym, who is just pure comedy. Coincidentally enough, I'm reading a crime story by Hazel Holt, who was Pym's work colleague and executor. The stories are very quaint and unchallenging, but every now and then a whiff of Pym-ness comes out. If you haven't read them, they may amuse you- for example there is a minor character in Holt's "The Only Good Lawyer" who is recognisably Keith from Pym's "Glass of Blessings." :-)


@Lucienne My Barbara Pym gateway drugs were "Excellent Women" and "Jane and Prudence," and I can heartily recommend both. There's not one I dislike (okay, maybe "An Academic Question"; that you can skip), though I have a very soft spot for some of the quirkier ones ("A Glass of Blessings," "An Unsuitable Attachment"). The books are both romantic and rueful - usually more of the latter. More often than not, you have to decide ahead of time that you're ready to cope with heroines who are constantly telling you that they're not pretty or stylish (a scene in "Excellent Women" in which Mildred Lathbury buys the wrong shade of lipstick because it's called "Hawaiian Fire" is both hilarious and painful).

You will be rewarded with terrific writing and characters. And Pym's just razor-sharp with her descriptions.


@Heike Yes, you can see that I used the word "interesting" rather than "delightful" or some other adjective in that category. I really do prefer Taylor's work when it's short-story length, because all that wryness and dryness works better in small doses.

The comparison to the wonderful Barbara Pym was not about style - more that they lived and wrote at roughly the same time, sometimes on similar topics. I'll have to find Hazel Holt's book, because more Keith is never a bad thing! Is he modelling knitwear?


@sudden_eyes haha! no, but he is looking after an elderly actor, Sir Alec Patmore, "one of our theatrical knights". And he makes wonderful scones.
('Patmore' of course, also being a nod to Prudence's favourite poet, and now I think of it, there are some mentions of Regency sofas, too...)

I shall look for Taylor in short story form, might be more my thing.


Really Lovable..@v


I started reading "In a Summer Season" and just got too bored. As Heike said, excellently, sterile like an Anita Brookner. But am I wrong? Does it get more engaging?

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