‘I’d sooner read a new Barbara Pym than a new Jane Austen’ Philip Larkin
Wilmet Forsyth is well dressed, well looked after, suitably husbanded, good looking and fairly young – but very bored. Her husband Rodney, a handsome army major, is slightly balder and fatter than he once was. Wilmet would like to think she has changed rather less.
Her interest wanders to the nearby Anglo-catholic church, where at last she can neglect her comfortable household in the more serious-minded company of three unmarried priests, and, of course, Piers Longridge, a man of an unfathomably different character altogether.
INTRODUCED BY SARAH WATERS
‘Every one of her books is a treat and this is my favourite, because of its wonderful cast of characters, and because of the deftness with which Taylor’s narrative moves between them … A wonderful writer’ SARAH WATERS
In the faded coastal village of Newby, everyone looks out for – and in on – each other, and beneath the deceptively sleepy exterior, passions run high.
Beautiful divorcee Tory is secretly involved with her neighbour, Robert, while his wife Beth, Tory’s best friend, is consumed by the worlds she creates in her novels, oblivious to the relationship developing next door. Their daughter Prudence is aware, however, and is appalled by the treachery she observes. Mrs Bracey, an invalid whose grasp on life is slipping, forever peers from her window, constantly prodding her daughters for news of the outside world. And Lily Wilson, a lonely young widow, is frightened of her own home. Into their lives steps Bertram, a retired naval officer with the unfortunate capacity to inflict lasting damage while trying to do good.
‘Her stories remain with one, indelibly, as though they had been some turning-point in one’s own experience’ – ELIZABETH BOWEN
‘Always intelligent, often subversive and never dull, Elizabeth Taylor is the thinking person’s dangerous housewife. Her sophisticated prose combines elegance, icy wit and freshness in a stimulating cocktail’ – VALERIE MARTIN
‘A magnificent and underrated mid-20th-century writer, the missing link between Jane Austen and John Updike’ – DAVID BADDIEL
Introduced by Neel Mukherjee
‘All her writings could be described as coming into the category of comedy. Comedy is the best vehicle for truths that are too fierce to be borne’ Anita Brookner
‘Elizabeth Taylor has an eye as sharply all-seeing as her prose is elegant – even the humdrum becomes astonishing when told in language that always aims for descriptive integrity, without a cliché in sight. As a result, Taylor excels in conveying the tragicomic poignancy of the everyday’ Daily Telegraph
When newly orphaned Cassandra Dashwood arrives as governess to little Sophy, the scene seems set for the archetypal romance between young girl and austere widowed employer. Strange secrets abound in the ramshackle house. But conventions are subverted in this atmospheric novel: one of its worlds is suffused with classical scholarship and literary romance, but the other is chaotic, quarrelsome and even farcical. Cassandra is to discover that in real life, tragedy, comedy and acute embarrassment are never far apart.
‘Her stories remain with one, indelibly, as though they had been some turning-point in one’s own experience’ – Elizabeth Bowen, author of The Heat of the Day
Intelligent and haunting, with echoes of Brief Encounter, this is a love story by one of the best British writers of the 20th century.
During summer games of hide and seek Harriet falls in love with Vesey and his elusive, teasing ways. When he goes to Oxford she cherishes his photograph and waits for a letter that never comes.
Years pass and Harriet stifles her dreams; with a husband and daughter, she excels at respectability. But then Vesey reappears and her marriage seems to melt away. Harriet is older, it is much too late, but she is still in love with him.
INTRODUCED BY DAVID BADDIEL
‘Elizabeth Taylor is finally being recognised as an important British author: an author of great subtlety, great compassion and great depth. As a reader, I have found huge pleasure in returning to Taylor’s novels and short stories many times over. As a writer I’ve returned to her too – in awe of her achievements, and trying to work out how she does it’ SARAH WATERS
Vinny Tumulty is a quiet, sensible man. When he goes to stay at a seaside town, his task is to comfort Isabella, a bereaved friend, and and he is prepared for a solemn few days of tears and consolation. But on the evening of his arrival, he looks out of the window at the sunset and catches sight of a beautiful woman walking by the seashore. Before the week is over Vinny has fallen in love, completely and utterly, for the first time in his middle-aged life. Emily, though, is a sleeping beauty, her secluded life hiding bitter secrets from the past.
The debut novel from Elizabeth Taylor – shortlisted for the Booker Prize
Mrs Lippincote’s house, with its mahogany furniture and yellowing photographs, stands as a reminder of all the certainties that have vanished with the advent of war. Temporarily, this is home for Julia, who has joined her husband Roddy at the behest of the RAF. Although she can accept the pomposities of service life, Julia’s honesty and sense of humour prevent her from taking her role as seriously as her husband, that leader of men, might wish; for Roddy, merely love cannot suffice – he needs homage as well as admiration. And Julia, while she may be a most unsatisfactory officer’s wife, is certainly no hypocrite.
‘Her stories remain with one, indelibly, as though they had been some turning-point in one’s own experience’ Elizabeth Bowen
‘No writer has described the English middle classes with more gently devastating accuracy’ Rebecca Abrams, Spectator
‘A Game of Hide and Seek showcases much of what makes Taylor a great novelist: piercing insight, a keen wit and a genuine sense of feeling for her characters’ Elizabeth Day, Guardian
INTRODUCED BY HELEN DUNMORE
Elizabeth Taylor’s darkest novel . . . She writes with a sensuous richness of language that draws the reader down the most shadowy paths . . . Extremely beguiling. Taylor makes the living moment present, touchable, disturbing, enchanting – Helen Dunmore
Spending the holiday with friends, as she has for many years, Camilla finds that their private absorptions – Frances with her painting and Liz with her baby – seem to exclude her from the gossipy intimacies of previous summers. Anxious that she will remain encased in her solitary life as a school secretary, and perhaps to spite of her friends, Camilla steps into an unlikely liaison with Richard Elton, a handsome, assured – and dangerous – liar.
Elizabeth Taylor’s darkest novel is a skillful exploration of the danger we’ll go to to avoid loneliness. Taylor is increasingly recognised as one of the best writers of the twentieth century, and this little-known novel displays her range admirably.
‘One of the great British novels of the twentieth century: a narrative of extraordinary reach, power and beauty’ SARAH WATERS
In memory of the wife who had once dishonoured and always despised him, Brian de Retteville founded Oby – a twelfth-century convent in a hidden corner of Norfolk. Two centuries later the Benedictine community is well established there and, as befits a convent whose origin had such chequered motives, the inhabitants are prey to the ambitions, squabbles, jealousies and pleasures of less spiritual environments. An outbreak of the Black Death, the collapse of the convent spire, the Bishop’s visitation and a nun’s disappearance are interwoven with the everyday life of the nuns, novices, successive Prioresses and the nun’s priest, in this affectionate and ironic observation of the more wordly history of a religious order.
Lolly Willowes is a twenty-eight-year-old spinster when her adored father dies, leaving her dependent upon her brothers and their wives. After twenty years of self-effacement as a maiden aunt, she decides to break free and moves to a small Bedfordshire village. Here, happy and unfettered, she enjoys her new existence nagged only by the sense of a secret she has yet to discover. That secret – and her vocation – is witchcraft, and with her cat and a pact with the Devil, Lolly Willowes is finally free.
An instant success on its publication in 1926, LOLLY WILLOWES is Sylvia Townsend Warner’s first and most magical novel. Deliciously wry and inviting, it was her piquant plea that single women find liberty and civility, a theme that would later be explored by Virginia Woolf in ‘A Room of One’s Own’.
A landmark in feminist literature, THE WOMEN’S ROOM is a biting social commentary of a world gone silently haywire. Written in the 1970s but with profound resonance today, this is a modern allegory that offers piercing insight into the social norms accepted blindly and revered so completely.
‘Today’s “desperate housewives” eat your heart out! This is the original and still the best, a page-turner that makes you think. Essential reading’ Kate Mosse
‘They said this book would change lives – and it certainly changed mine’ Jenni Murray
‘Reading THE WOMEN’S ROOM was an intense and wonderful experience. It is in my DNA’ Kirsty Wark
‘THE WOMEN’S ROOM took the lid off a seething mass of women’s frustrations, resentments and furies; it was about the need to change things from top to bottom; it was a declaration of independence’ OBSERVER
I do know how to behave – believe me, because I know. I have always known…’
Behind the gates of Temple Alice the aristocratic Anglo-Irish St Charles family sinks into a state of decaying grace. To Aroon St Charles, large and unlovely daughter of the house, the fierce forces of sex, money, jealousy and love seem locked out by the ritual patterns of good behaviour. But crumbling codes of conduct cannot hope to save the members of the St Charles family from their own unruly and inadmissible desires. This elegant and allusive novel established Molly Keane as the natural successor to Jean Rhys.