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The Sleeping Beauty (Virago Modern Classics Book 362) Kindle Edition
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Elizabeth Taylor writes beautifully; she is able to portray her characters and their situations with compassion, perception and wit, and she uses language with a wonderfully subtle sensuality. Ms Taylor is often compared to Jane Austen, and those who enjoy reading her novels will understand the comparison, but I think she should be enjoyed for her own considerable merits. If you have not yet discovered Elizabeth Taylor, and you enjoy reading intelligent, subtle, witty novels, then you are in for a treat.
Also recommended by the same author:A View of the Harbour (Virago Modern Classics) and The Soul of Kindness (Virago Modern Classics)
If Elizabeth Taylor is a new author to you and you would like to find out more about her and her writing, I would recommend: The Other Elizabeth Taylor by Nicola Beauman.
There are two love affairs developing over the course of this novel. Vinny, a middle-aged, middle-class, gently spoken, thoughtful man, falls in love with Emily, a mysterious widow he bumps into on the beach - this is the main thread of the novel. Emily is somewhat reclusive because of the car accident she was involved in that killed her husband; it required her to undergo plastic surgery, an accident that is the possible cause of her niece's mental disability. She lives with her sister Rose in a guest house; their relationship is unhealthily dependent. Emily is the sleeping beauty of the title, who Vinny succeeds in awakening, releasing her from a self-imposed, psychologically induced imprisonment (though he too is awakened, by her). Shadowing this - as all good Shakespearean comedies do - is a more commonplace romance between Laurence, a young soldier, and Betty, nursemaid to a family, the Tillotsons, who are a staying at the guest house. Vinny begins the novel by visiting an old friend Isabella, also a widow, mother of Laurence. Though she's half in love with Vinny, and has a tendency to put down her son, she provides, with her coeval Evadne, some of the comic turns in the novel, their sour gossip and secret flutters on the horses being a nice counterpoint to the serious atmosphere of the guest house. As you'd expect in novels of this kind, in this period, class differences and ingrained snobberies exist everywhere. This is a time when a man felt he could not stay under the roof of his widowed friend for fear of gossip 'besmirching' her reputation; a time when families had nannies and nursemaids and cooks; when divorce was difficult - a world in living memory but now very much of a period long gone. No one catches such a world of subtle disapproval than Taylor, and she does it not with satire but a finely tuned wit.
In this world secrets thrive. Vinny, desperately in love with Emily, has a wife who he's never actually lived with. Bigamy looms, but the secret gets out. How will Emily react when she discovers it? That is the climax of the novel. How Taylor handles this climax - undramatically - some readers find disappointing (was she leant on by the publisher?), but it seems to me that Taylor's touch is always to be trusted, is always finely judged and mature: she would have considered the restrained ending with all her usual care. A brilliant, understated but deeply satisfying novel.
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