Sunday, July 29, 2012

Elizabeth Taylor's Angel - Week 4

So-called “Rondanini Medusa”. Marble, Roman copy after a 5th-century BC Greek original by Phidias, which was set on the shield of Athena Parthenos.
And so we come to the end of our reading of Angel by Elizabeth Taylor.

Did you, like me and Mr Fennelly, fall under Taylor's spell?

...loving her, almost as if he had invented her - bad fairy, wicked stepmother, peevish goddess, whatever she was.

I believe Taylor had fun creating her monster but the last chapter is testament to her love for her creation.  One cannot help but feel that, like the recalcitrant chauffeur Marvell, she misses her already as she kills her off.

No-one, to my mind, captures the real grief of aging quite like the words of Theo:

As we grow older, we are already dying; our hold on life lessens; there are fewer to mourn us or keep us in mind.  I am on my way already and taking the last of Hermione with me as I go.

Can we ever really know Taylor and what inspired her? 

Luckily for us, Taylor has many more captivating characters in her pantry and we are now moving on to her next novel in chronological order....please join Kaggsy's Bookish Ramblings for discussion of In A Summer Season.

My grateful thanks to all those who have commented on this blog this month.  Your comments have been most thought-provoking and companionable.  

Thanks too to the lovely Laura for offering me this opportunity to host this month and encouraging us all to celebrate Elizabeth Taylor's work and keep the flame alive.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Elizabeth Taylor's Angel - Week 3

From the movie Angel directed by Fracois Ozon and starring Romola Garai and Michael Fassbender

In Part 3 of Angel, Angel spends the season in London, finds her way to Esme's studio and has her portrait painted.  Taylor describes her love for Esme as follows:

Love had laid her waste, so that she was open to other emotions, too, from which she once had been immune.

Esme's sister Nora in contrast...

felt the pains of martyrdom more exquisitely.  She brooded over her sufferings with a saintly acceptance of them, added each new one to her hoard and wondered if any woman ever was so wretched.

Angel seduces Esme with food

...excellent and abundant and.suited to masculine tastes : there was a saddle of mutton and wing-ribs of beef, a York ham with Cumberland sauce and a terrine of grouse.

Esme's declaration of love in the conservatory

was the only time in her life that she had forgotten an animal.

Have you seen the adaptation of Angel by Ozon?  It was interesting that he chose to place Theo rather than Esme with Angel when she discovers Paradise House, n'est-ce pas?

Sam Neill as Theo

Have you seduced someone with food?  Was it a saddle of mutton or a terrine?

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Elizabeth Taylor's Angel - Week 2

The common marmoset (Callithrix jacchus) is a small New World monkey courtesy of Leszek Leszczynski on Flicker
This month I am hosting a read-a-long of Elizabeth Taylor's Angel in celebration of Elizabeth Taylor's centenary this year initiated by the lovely Laura.

Hopefully by now you will have read Part Two of Angel which introduces us to some very important characters in the story of both the furry kind and human kind, as well as the imaginary - I am speaking of the redoutable Mr Delbanco invented by Angel's long suffering publisher, Theo.  

Angel is growing in confidence as her reputation as an author grows. With her newly acquired wealth, she moves to a new more salubrious abode in the burbs  - The Birches at Alderhurst.  She surrounds herself with exotic pets - a parrot, a marmoset and a great dog called Sultan.  Her mother is ailing and eventually succumbs to an internal haemorrhage.  Her departure from this mortal coil paves the way neatly for the entrance of Nora, Angel's companion for the next thirty years as well as Esme, Nora's reprehensible and profligate brother.

When forced to consider the character of Angel and describe what makes her so odious, I think it is her complete lack of a sense of humour.  Thankfully Elizabeth Taylor abounds in humour and that is what makes reading Angel such a delight. Writing humour or comedy is no mean feat and I love to try and dissect Taylor's work to discover it's secrets.  Little sentences or phrases provide much joy e.g. 

"...industry made Norley an impossible place for industrialists to live in...." or 

"Miss Nora Howe-Nevinson," Lord Norley said loudly.  It was not an easy name to say and sometimes he made the most embarrassing mistakes.".

I love the dance of conversations - Taylor makes much of awkward silences and who is the first to fail or fall into the trap of speaking first and letting the other person "win".

William Govett driving a De Dion Bouton on an unsealed road c 1905 from State Library of Queensland
Taylor takes us on a tour of Angel's life in what can now be considered a rather quaint linear fashion from beginning to end.  Rather like travelling in the open tourer of Theo's De Bion Bouton without protective goggles, our senses are assaulted by the weather of her life's little and big storms.  By the by I thought Sam Neil was beautifully cast as Theo in the recent adaptation of Angel - though the rest of the film to my mind was rather stilted and tedious and captured none of Taylor's humour.

Taylor's prowess at humour is intensified by the tremendous pathos of Mrs Deverell's loneliness and decline and Angel's hopelessness at intimacy and happiness.  One of my favourite descriptions of Angel is as follows: 

"Once he saw a large cactus-plant in a flower-shop window.  From one unpromising, barbed shoot had sprung a huge, glowering bloom.  It looked solitary and incongrous, a freakish accident; and he was reminded of Angel." (p. 77 of my Virago edition)

How are you traveling on this journey?  I mentioned in an earlier post that reviewers are the bane of Angel's life.  Angel's publisher knows she writes tripe and has to perform editing cartwheels to save her from herself.  And yet her writing is the source of his good fortune.  

How do you choose what to read next ?  Which reviewers do you find most useful?  Friends, journalists, bloggers?  What do you look for in a review?  Do you read to escape into the exotic? Or do you look for realism?  

Here are some links to reviews of Angel written by fellow Elizabeth Taylor afficionados..

Remember when you share your thoughts on the book please do so via a Mr. Linky on Laura's Elizabeth Taylor Centenary page.

Monday, July 9, 2012

A lazy Sunday afternoon....

Goodwill Bridge, Brisbane taken from Southbank

One got to catch up with one's nearest and dearest for lunch yesterday.  We sat by the Brisbane river....something that I don't get to do much anymore so it was a welcome change.    My nearest and dearest are working very hard on a book - they will be finished soon we hope.  It's been a lot of hard work for a very long time.

The venue for lunch was The Stokehouse.  I lead a very sheltered life and had not heard of it but I believe it won an award very recently for its design. The Arkhefield website has some fabulous photos which do it much more justice than my humble camera. 

The Stokehouse Brisbane

I arrived just before the hordes hit at midday.  The service was attentive and efficient.  We shared breaded green olives with three cheeses for starters.  Then some of us had entree sized angel hair pasta with prawns, mussels and clams which was pronounced "Yum" - another tucked into some Barramundi.  I couldn't resist an affogato to finish off whilst the others had a pear thingummy.  Kisses, hugs and late birthday presents on both sides were exchanged with oohs and aahs and promises to catch up soon.

Then I had to dash off to a book launch for.....

Cover of Alex and the Watermelon Boat by Chris McKimmie published by Allen & Unwin

I am delighted to know a couple of young gentlemen for whom this would make the perfect birthday or Christmas gift.  It's the kind of gift that they will "grow" in to, as it were ... it is aimed at 4-8 year olds and my gentlemen are a smidgin younger than that.  

I do love picture books and now that I have the far from onerous duty of being "back-up" story-time reader in my new job, I enjoy checking out what's on offer.  This is a lovely BIG book with fabulous illustrations and lots to look at providing much food for thought and discussion whilst sharing with small ones. The story was inspired by the recent floods in Brisbane and Robyn Sheahan-Bright accurately describes the author Chris McKimmie's style as "whimsical and delightful" in her teacher's notes which you can read here. 

If you'd like to find out more about the floods in Brisbane earlier this year, check out the State Library of Queensland's recent collection of images Mosaic captured here and written about here  ,

A lazy Sunday afternoon indeed, flooded with great food, family, friends and stories.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Purveyors of Twaddle

Cover art is detail of a Portrait of Madame Lacroix by Giovanni Boldini
All right Luvvies, listen up.  This month I will be hosting the read-a-long of Angel in celebration of Elizabeth Taylor's centenary.  No, not that Elizabeth Taylor, the other one.  We have been reading her works in chronological order...well some of us have...I was doing quite well until April.  Anyway I do hope you can join us.  This week we are going to begin the book.  I have sneakily read it already in order to be prepared but am re-reading it and highlighting the bits I love.

Angel was published in 1957 but is set in 1900.  Elizabeth Taylor was born in 1912 (centenary - get it?) and died in 1975.  According to The Reader's Companion to Twentieth Century Writers published by the 4th Estate, she was the daughter of an insurance inspector and was born Elizabeth Coles.  She attended the Abbey School (Jane Austen went there too) and worked for a time as a governess.  She married the director of a sweet factory in 1936  and "devoted herself to domestic life and bringing up two children, making time away from this to write her novels and short stories." 

It is said that Angel is based loosely upon the lives of Marie Corelli and Amanda McKittrick Ros.  It is about a "preposterous popular novelist who believes every word of the drivel she writes..." (Reader's Companion again).  The novelist is called Angel Deverell - yes, you get the pun...she is no angel and she lies about playing the harp. 

Taylor is known for her fabulous characterisation, wit and, to my mind her greatest talent, cogency.  The Reader's Companion describes it as astringent writing.  

Angel does not write astringently.  She aches to be rid of her dreary suburban life.  She is a great fabulist.  On page one we are told "The girl had a great reputation as a liar..."  

The book is in 6 parts which roughly corresponds to the time we have to read it.  

Try and read the first part by next Saturday and let's talk about a few things then....

For example...have you read any Corelli?  Or McKittrick-Ross?

Do you read twaddle secretly?  I have read Fifty Shades of Grey for professional development as a trainee librarian you sixteen I devoured Harold Robbins books with BFF Judith - they were hidden carelessly under mattressees.... 

I am now trying to "devour" Corelli - Barabbas to be specific...not sure how far I'll get but I'll give it a go....

Have you ever written twaddle?  I did when I was 12 - I spun the globe, my finger landed somewhere in South America and my two lead characters were called Roderick and Anastasia - so there.

Has anyone seen the film Angel directed by Francois Ozon starring Sam Neil, Charlotte Rampling and Romola Garai?  I'm borrowing it from my local video store this afternoon.  

Have a think about the symbolism of the name Angelica (Orlando Furioso),  the meaning of Angel as messenger and why women in order to be attractive/sexy must be chained up or submissive.  Well this is a Virago Modern Classic discussion after all.  My husband is washing up as I write this blog....hrumph.

Ruggiero rescuing Angelica by Auguste Dominique Ingres

Other tidbits are that the book is dedicated to Patience Ross, Elizabeth Taylor's agent.  I do think this book is a book about writing - what we think of writers, how we use writers, how writers and publishers fare in the vicarious world of readers and their fancies.  

Here's another tidbit - Joanna Kingham says in her introduction to Complete Short Stories by Elizabeth Taylor recently published by Virago ...."One of the many things that I recall about my mother was her deep love for art and the great pleasure she took in visiting galleries and exhibitions.This pleasure is captured in another of her letters, written in 1965 "I nipped up to London, yesterday and bought the most beautiful picture at the Leicester Galleries.  It is by Elinor Bellingham Smith - a dead, still, frozen world.  I long for the exhibition to be over so I can have it home to stare at.  I was frightened at spending so much money, but didn't take a taxi afterwards.  Then this morning the cheque came for Tall Boy and I thought, "This is marvellous.  I am turning stories into pictures." 

The log by Elinor Bellingham-Smith
Was the painting something like the one above perhaps?  Great story huh?  

If anyone can enlighten me on the cover art for the VMC edition published 1984 I would be most grateful....who is Madame Lacroix is what I really want to know.... I liked the selection of Boldini's work on this blog...

Right that's enough from me.  What do you think?  When you share your thoughts on the book please do so via a Mr. Linky on Laura's Elizabeth Taylor Centenary page.