Apart from Andrea Camilleri, the superb Sicilian writer of boisterous crime novels, my happiest discovery in the last year or two has been the once well-known novelist Elizabeth Taylor (1912-1975). Having read the beautifully written A View Of The Harbour, I picked up Angel the other day, as it seemed about time I read another of this absurdly underrated author`s books.
What a wonderfully witty, sad, relentless and sly novel. Other reviewers on this page have given enough synopses, so I won`t rehash the plot. But in the character of Angel herself, Taylor created a genuine monster, an often heartless, egotistical, misanthropic, myopic, selfish bitch. And yet, the author being the great writer I believe she is - in the tradition of the subtler, `quieter` English novelists - she manages to persuade us, through her art, that the story of Angel is worth a 250-page novel and our time. This it most certainly is.
I got the impression, the more I read, that Taylor had had a ball writing this strange tale. She gives Angel virtually no redeeming features at all (even her much vaunted love of animals is sentimental, and a corollary to her lack of love for her own kind) but Angel`s, and the novel`s, saving grace, aside from the sheer precision of its composition, is the few chinks in her armour we are vouchsafed, such as when, later in her eccentric, deluded life, she admits she longs for a kind word. This woman incapable of love needs just that, and, against all odds, one`s heart goes out.
I have never, in fiction, met anyone quite like Angel. One can think of many monsters in novels of various kinds: Dickens`s Uriah Heep, Conan Doyle`s Charles Augustus Milverton, Iago...but they are recognisably human, however grotesque, with their vulnerabilities on show, consciously or otherwise. Angel admits no falliblity, no self-awareness at all. Somehow, Taylor manages to still make us care, and find this stern oddball of a woman worth troubling about. Yes, of course this is partly a novel about writers, publishers and critics, but I think that aspect of the story can be overplayed. This is also surely a book about some kind of rebel, if a dislikeable, surly, humourless one. Angel (and the novel itself) makes us look at the world from a rarely seen perspective, that of an unconsciously vulnerable, ultimately tragic woman - tragic to us if not to herself - whose world is centered purely on her own demands and desires. But we read on. And yes, we do care. Why? Because Taylor is such a cunning and subtle novelist, whose prose comes to be as much a character as Angel herself.
This, after all, is what all writers worth the name are able to do.
I was taken aback, depressed, impressed, saddened, amused and bemused by this unique saga, and I hope the novels of Elizabeth Taylor - in their excellently presented reissues from Virago Press - become widely read, as they most definitely deserve to be.