D.J. Taylor is a curious writer - writes well; good, textured use of language, inhabits period well, creates interesting characters, often manages a splendid line in literary pastiche - Kept: A Victorian Mystery
, At the Chime of a City Clock
, and I pick up a Taylor book, and each time find myself enjoyably appreciating the craft, and forgetting just why I ended up feeling disappointed with the last one -- because there will come a time, around half way through, where everything begins to turn a bit turgid, there is the sense of a lot of repetition, an overdoing of repeated atmosphere.
It is this which makes me puzzle the accolades which have been heaped on this writer. Something, an incisiveness, an economy, is missing.
It isn't that I expect a furiously driving plot - I very much like books where the mystery and depth unfold, and where detail is put in that gives a three dimensionality - but there should always be some sort of superobjective which keeps the author in focus, and avoids the flabby.
And so I found the problem, again, with Ask Alice. A promising story of how a young girl in Kansas in the early part of the twentieth century, from a pretty ruinous start, climbs out of poverty into high society in England, and is later connected with her past again. No spoilers - the dust jacket of the book explains this. I really enjoyed Taylor's evocations of time and place, social observations, the teeming cast of characters, but somehow, instead of all this gathering itself up and ravelling and unravelling with momentum, it begins, after a while, to plod.
There is the frustrating feeling that if only Taylor could vigorously prune his creations, a better story teller would be revealed