Complete Short Stories (Virago Modern Classics) Paperback – 21 Jun 2012
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Elizabeth Taylor is finally being recognised as an important British author: one of great subtlety, great compassion and great depth. (Sarah Waters)
Taylor has remarkable skill. In all the stories there is a peculiarly satisfying mixture of wit and generosity. Their human depth is such that they can be read again and again. (Margaret Drabble)
Taylor's writing is honed, even laconic, especially in dialogue. Her wit, while sharp, is buoyant. She focuses on the domestic as a theatre of secret barbarism ... These are Taylor's people, beautifully present and poignant as they play out the comedy of their lives. (Helen Dunmore The Times)
Must Reads: Taylor's wicked, subversive stories are a mordant delight. (Sunday Times)
The first time Elizabeth Taylor's acclaimed short stories have been collected in one volume, and its publication marks the centenary of Elizabeth Taylor's birth.See all Product description
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Especially impressive can be the shortest pieces, which are cleverly crafted character studies where conversations reveal the speakers' personalities: the verbal equivalent of minature portraits (at just 2 ½ pages, "Taking Mother Out" is a marvel of concision). Taylor often has these stories start in mid-conversation, and immediately presents how people behave toward each other (everyone fusses around a new mother in "The Light of Day"), showing the social conventions and customs we automatically fall into (the hospital visit in "Mothers"), and the ways of children (every parent would recognise the portrayal of the shopping excursion in "The Little Girl").
Not that this focus on behaviour and emotions means that Taylor lapses in her descriptions of settings when needed (it may be only four lines, but the first paragraph of "For Thine is the Power" succinctly conveys place and time).
Many readers will be surprised at these studies, for they represent a very different aspect of Taylor's creativity from the twisting, skilfully plotted narratives we know through her novels. One appreciates just how major a writer she was.
I have found this book as stimulating and absorbing as reading through the collected stories of Katherine Mansfield, and the complete stories of Flannery O'Connor. There is an emotional universe in here; in these pages I seem to recognise versions of individuals from my own life.
As for the details, there are 64 stories in this large thick volume, which is nearly 630 pages in all. Short stories they certainly are, the author quite adeptly squeezing psychological drama and pithy insights into a few pages. Most of the stories are 8 to 15 pages in length; although the first story, "Hester Lilly", is virtually a novella at 53 pages long.
As the book's descriptor explains, this compilation brings together the four books of stories published in Taylor's lifetime, plus several more added that had only appeared in magazines such as "The New Yorker".
The only drawback to this superb collection is the absence of prior publication details. The years that these stories were written in is nowhere listed, nor the magazines they where first publishing in; nor even the order they appeared in Taylor's previous four books of stories. This is a regrettable oversight, and will hamper efforts to encourage scholarship on this neglected author's work. Readers and scholars really do need to know the dates of stories (which are the earliest?, and which the latest?) in order to understand how this major author's fiction developed and strengthened; and, of course, to position them against the sequence of novels she wrote.
(PS. If you haven't read Elizabeth Taylor's novel A Wreath of Roses yet, then you must get that book, too. And Elizabeth Bowen's Collected Stories (Vintage classics) is also a must. For me they are five major stars as well.)
This complete collection contains over sixty short stories; the ones that are more widely known such as the marvellous 'Hester Lilly' which tells the story of a headmaster's sophisticated wife who suffers discomforting feelings of jealousy when her husband's young, gauche cousin comes to stay; 'The Devastating Boys' where an Oxfordshire couple invite two black boys from the East End to their home to give them an experience of life in the country - the boys cause a fair amount of upheaval, but bring unexpected pleasure and rewards; and a particular favourite of mine: 'Girl Reading' about a teenage girl, the daughter of a financially strapped widow, who goes to stay with a school friend from a much wealthier family, which is particularly good. However, there is also the very different 'The Fly Paper' (described by Taylor as being "rather horrible" whilst adding that she did not think anyone would really like it) which later became a rather chilling film.
Elizabeth Taylor is a wonderful writer; she uses language with a subtleness and sensitivity and she is able to portray her characters and their situations with perception, compassion and humour; she describes the dynamics of middle-class family life in the mid twentieth century particularly well and she appears to have an intuitive understanding of the relationship between women and their children. Like most short story collections, some of these stories are more enjoyable than others, however this is an excellent collected edition to keep by you for when you have a few moments to yourself, but maybe not enough time to get involved in a full-length novel - keep it in the car, by the bedside or next to the sofa; download it on your Kindle or order the attractively covered paperback version, but do treat yourself to one. This is a collection that I shall read, re-read and recommend to friends and relations.
Also recommended by the same author:The Soul of Kindness (Virago Modern Classics);A View Of The Harbour (Virago Modern Classics);Blaming (Virago Modern Classics) and The Sleeping Beauty
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Characters are well well - rounded and totally believable.Read more
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