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.


Anonymous said...

This second time of reading Angel made me see her as less odious than the first time I read it. She is unlikeable though, but also ultimately a very character, rather pitiful.

On the sunject of reviews - I like book bloggers reviews - and those from Librarything and Goodreads. I do often read reviews on Amazon too - though I sometimes find them less helpful. I always listen to friends recommendations though.

Anonymous said...

I also find bloggers and LibraryThing reviews the most useful. I always feel that newspapers and magazines etc have a kind of agenda and perhaps some kind of party line to toe. But with online reviews from bloggers etc I always feel that they've read the book because they want to, not as a job, and so what they're writing comes more from the heart. I've stumbled across some wonderful books I wouldn't have otherwise found this way and so I tend to trust the booklovers rather than the professional reviewers! Having said that, I have occasionally found something wonderful via Amazon recommendations based on my buying habits!!

Laura said...

First things first: I love how you kicked off this post with a photo of a marmoset!

I definitely found Angel an odious character. I rather liked that about her at first, but then she began to wear on me. I agree with you that Taylor's humor saved the day. I'm so glad you called out a few phrases. I should have marked humorous passages as I read, because when I went back to write my review I couldn't find them. And so many are only funny in context, so they are like a joke that takes too long to explain.

As for your questions about reviews ... I rely heavily on blogger and LibraryThing reader opinion. I've come to know those whose tastes are similar enough to mine that I can trust their recommendations.

Alex Daw said...

Ali - so great to hear from you...I've been a bit absent from Librarything and missed your cheery reviews...I have been thinking of you as we are now reading The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie and I think I first heard about that from one of your reviews...

Kaggsy - I'm with you...when I reflect on the books I've enjoyed the most they have been recommended to me by other readers on places like Librarything. Having said that I do still love to read Galleycat and Shelf Awareness to keep up to speed with what is what.

Laura - I didn't know what a marmoset was really so I thought I'd better make quite sure and look, and see what beautiful ears he/she has?