Author: Elizabeth Taylor
Genre/Themes: Modern Classic, Books about Authors and Writing Process, Class Divide, Unlikeable Characters
Blurb from Goodreads
Writing stories that are extravagant and fanciful, fifteen-year old Angel retreats to a world of romance, escaping the drabness of provincial life. She knows she is different, that she is destined to become a feted authoress, owner of great riches and of Paradise House . . .
After reading The Lady Irania, publishers Brace and Gilchrist are certain the novel will be a success, in spite of – and perhaps because of – its overblown style. But they are curious as to who could have written such a book: ‘Some old lady, romanticising behind lace-curtains’ . . . ‘Angelica Deverell is too good a name to be true . . . she might be an old man. It would be an amusing variation. You are expecting to meet Mary Anne Evans and in Walks George Eliot twirling his moustache.’ So nothing can prepare them for the pale young woman who sits before them, with not a seed of irony or a grain of humour in her soul.
Angel was a most curious read! It’s all about the most ludicrous and self-absorbed characters you’ll ever read about, the titular Angel. Or to give her her full name Angelica Deverell.
I had such a blast reading this. There was something so utterly comforting about the writing style to me. The command of English that the author Elizabeth Taylor had made this novel nothing short of delightful. Taylor’s ability to craft wonderful turns of phrase with unfailingly precise wording, meant that the narrative flowed in an appealing fashion; the settings of the various scenes and all pertinent emotions of the characters were perfectly conveyed to me as a reader. When reading Angel I feel like I found myself again.
Just to sidetrack for a minute…
In my earlier years I read literary classics almost exclusively, but once I joined Goodreads and subsequently NetGalley my attention was diverted by new books. And while I enjoyed many of these new reads, none ever gave me those same feel good vibes I had about reading as a whole when I was a teenager discovering classic works.
So in recent months I’ve given up reading both books from NetGalley and the most recent releases; I still have a handful of titles languishing on my NetGalley shelf but my heart just isn’t in it. If I read them I feel I’d only end up rating each one extremely lowly because the act of reading them feels akin to a tedious chore given my current state of apathy towards new releases. So that is why I’m returning to the style of story and writing that has long been my favourite.
Thusly, enter Elizabeth Taylor.
Elizabeth Taylor was an English writer born in 1912. And her books tended to focus on middle and upper middle class English society. Very reminiscent of Austen or Barbara Pym both of whom are authors I adore. So it was a no brainer for me to read her works for myself and the one that caught my eye was Angel.
Angel is a book about the most unhinged drama queen ever. And it’s fabulous! It’s a story that is a bit light on plot, and the narrative probably needed some editing as it dragged somewhat… but reading about Angel’s exploits was so bananas that I was utterly entertained from first page to last.
The book opens with Angel as a fifteen year old girl living with her mum. They’re not wealthy (her mum runs a shop, her aunt is a housekeeper/lady’s maid)… but reality doesn’t seem to touch Angel at all.
Instead she lives in this fanciful world of her imagination. Everyone is wrong and Angel is right. She feels she is sinned against by those all around her and feels that they should be essentially bowing down at her feet. Her delusions dictate her every mode of acting. She dreams of wealth and prestige, and feels aggrieved about how her mother treats her… which is an utter lol! Because her mum is perfectly lovely but just wants Angel to help out with the shop, house chores etc etc. All very standard things. But Angel has this deep belief that this life of servitude as she sees it is completely beneath her. And sadly her mum is a rather weak willed character and panders to her daughter which just sets up Angel to act even more outrageously.
Angel dreams of becoming the mistress of nearby Paradise House, an incredibly grand estate where her aunt works. She feels that it is somehow her inheritance and goes so far as to tell local children/school friends her delusions. So Angel then takes this notion that she will become immensely wealthy and achieve the fame and adulation she desires by becoming a novelist. And so she takes to her bed to write her literary masterpiece, The Lady Irania.
Well literary masterpiece it most certainly is not. Instead it’s a salacious and over the top piece of pre World War I disposable fiction… filled with wildly described settings, extravagant characters, high romance etc.
And somehow this novel gets published and Angel becomes rather wealthy!
The story then follows Angel throughout the rest of her life as she continues writing, becomes mistress of her much dreamed about Paradise House, and becomes more and more eccentric. This book provides a real insight into the life of an author of popular fiction.
We also follow Angel falling in love… but it’s love on her terms i.e. absolutely deluded and devoid of real sentiment on the part of her paramour. But also devoid of true feeling on Angel’s side. Love seems to almost be a thing to possess, something to fantasise about that actually fully engaging with her emotions.
We follow her life long friendship with her only friend Nora… but that too isn’t what one would call friendship. It’s again a relationship on Angel’s terms with Angel’s inability to grasp reality continually called into question.
Overall Angel is a novel about a person who is not very likeable, acts entirely without reason, treats everyone around her despicably… but yet it’s entirely compelling because as a reader you’re constantly waiting for that moment of … well humanity I guess. Or empathy perhaps. The book is so fascinating with how it explores the concepts of class and fortune, and what a person of wealthy means can do without fear of reproach. I thoroughly enjoyed reading the story of Angel. She was a truly larger than life character that really came to life under Taylor’s careful hand.