At the end of Victoria’s reign Angel is 15, plain and peevish, the daughter of a provincial shopkeeper, a girl with no prospects. But she has secret assets: devouring ambition and a reckless way with words. When Angel begins to write scandalous novels about high society – of which she is totally ignorant – an adoring public laps them up. Elizabeth Taylor’s tender, funny, exquisitely stylish novel keeps us on Angel’s side, even though we are appalled by her narcissism and shocked into laughter by her self-delusion. She is a monster, but a delicious monster, and the novel poses, for writers, questions that don’t date. That’s why I’m so drawn to the book and have loved it for years; there’s a bit of Angel in every writer, I fear.
I’m a little alarmed that I’ve signed up for at least three different “Best of” Lists for various places that pay me. They’ll be fun to compile but I admit this list, of books I adored that were published in years past (recent or not-so-recent) will be my sentimental favorite of the bunch.
- The entire backlist of Dorothy B. Hughes, but in particular, THE EXPENDABLE MAN (1963), reissued by NYRB Classics this summer; RIDE THE PINK HORSE (1946); and DREAD JOURNEY (1945), ostensibly about a cross-country train trip where someone will die before the last stop but really a lacerating examination of Hollywood mores of the time. Way more on Hughes in the essay I wrote for the LA Review of Books in August.
- Thomas Tryon, THE OTHER (1970). Before he turned to novels, Tryon was a promising actor whose career was essentially derailed by noted asshole Otto Preminger’s relentless abuse on set. Tryon quit Hollywood and found his real voice with this, his first novel, about 13-year-old twin boys who are polar opposites: Niles the eager-to-please one, Holland the simmering, surly one. The great thing about THE OTHER is that you’re free to interpret events any way you like, and it’s totally okay. Tryon leaves things that open.
— Raymond Kennedy, RIDE A COCKHORSE (1991) — Another NYRB Classics reissue. My god, what a monster Frankie is! Her transformation sudden, unexplained, but then she takes what she wants (like the high school bandmember in the opening chapter, then leadership of the bank where before she was a mere mousy teller) and it seems great until it isn’t. But what a ride. Shocked glee is the best way to describe reading this book.
— Elizabeth Taylor, ANGEL and A GAME OF HIDE AND SEEK — based on these two books, the first about a young woman determined to be a successful writer (and though she achieves this, it’s also her undoing), the other about the way a brief, aborted love affair hangs over lives for decades afterwards, I clearly need to read more of her books.
Okay, so we modify the post a bit. But out of the ten “Favorite Book Published Earlier Than 2012” chosen by Sarah Weinman on her blog Off On a Tangent, four of them were our titles. And that’s as it should be.
For the bookclubbers out there there are several NYRB-themed bookclubs you can partake in, either on your computer or in person:
We have our own Goodreads book club and the poll is now up for what to read over the rest of July and August. J.L. Carr’s A Month in the Country is winning at the moment, but there is still time to change that (till Monday).
And, for New Yorkers, WORD Bookstore has been doing a British NYRB Classics book club all year long for their Classics Book Club every second Saturday of the month at 12 am. We started Patrick Hamilton’s Twenty Thousand Streets Under the Sky this past weekend and will finish it on August 11th. Come by!
Yesterday we had several posts about François Ozon’s film adaption of Elizabeth Taylor’s Angel, mostly inspired by the casting of Romola Garai as Angel Deverell and Michael Fassbender as her husband, Esmé Howe-Nevinson. Also inspired was our production manager, who created this fine alternate cover for the book. And yes, that is Michael Fassbender as Esmé. Would you buy it?
Earlier today we shared some images from François Ozon’s adaptation of Elizabeth Taylor’s Angel. Here we share some more photos of Michael Fassbender in the role of Esmé Newe-Howinson, husband of Angel Deverell, played by Romola Garai. We didn’t want to show these images at first because we didn’t want to distract you. We’ve changed our mind, get distracted.
— François Ozon directed an adaptation of Elizabeth Taylor’s Angel in 2007 staring Romola Garai as Angel Deverell and Michael Fassbender as Esmé Howe-Nevinson. Esme is a failed painter and playboy who the successful novelist Angel asks to paint her (image 1), and of course, things progress (image 2). Here’s the scene of their meeting:
’It was Miss Deverell, you know, Esmé, said Lord Norely, ‘who gave us the Watts.’
’Most generous,’ his nephew murmured.
’Presented a very fine Watts to the Norely Art Gallery,’ Lord Norely explained to Theo [Angel’s publisher]. ‘You ought to make a point of seeing it. One of the Town’s treasures. Miss Deverell herself is another.’
Angel was dreamy with so much adulation. It was a perfect afternoon that could offer such riches and offer them in front of Theo and Hermione [his wife]. Hermione thought that she looked indecently sated: as if her self-infatuation demanded no more for a while: she was exquisitely at peace.
Then—so very soon—she was jolted from her trance. Esmé Howe-Nevinson handed round sandwiches, put a whole one in his mouth and settled down to a long study of Angel: he seemed to be regarding her with fascinated curiousity, with a lively, dancing look, unlike his sister’s spaniel gaze. Angel was conscious of it and felt uneasy. As she poured out a cup of tea, her hands were clumsy; the smallest action she was obliged to make became an ordeal.
’Why Watts?’ Esmé suddenly asked, still looking intently at her.
’I don’t understand,’ she said suspiciously.
’I meant, why did you choose Watts, of all painters? Or didn’t you choose? Perhaps it was the Town Council or some such set of ignorant old duffers.’
’I won’t allow that,’ said Lord Norely. ‘They’re a fine body of men and not one of them a ha’p’orth better off for all their trouble.’
’You don’t approve of Watts?’ Angel asked Esmé. ‘I will take full responsibility. My choice, my money, my ignorance.’
’And I asked why?’
’Watts is too famous a painter to need an ignorant writer to justify him.’
’I consider you rather discourteous, Esmé,’ said Lord Norely.
’And so do I,’ said Nora [his sister] passionately.
’I don’t mean to be. I had often wondered how those appalling pictures get into the provincial art galleries and here was my chance to find out. Forgive me, Miss Deverell, if I seemed to you to be rude. It must have been such a very expensive painting and so soon will be worth nothing. I regretted the waste of money.’
Kingsley Amis, who did more than anyone to undo her wallpapered-parlor image through a series of powerfully worded, almost angry reviews during her lifetime, still wrote defensively after her death in 1975 that Taylor’s ‘deeply unsensational style and subject-matter saw to it that, in life, she never received her due as one of the best English novelists born in this century. I hope she will in the future.’ By 1986, Anita Brookner was noting: ‘it is time that justice was done to Elizabeth Taylor, the Jane Austen of the 1950s and 1960s, a writer so beautifully modest that few have taken up the cudgels on her behalf.’
- from a review of Elizabeth Taylor’s A Game of Hide and Seek and Angel in The New Republic, which just announced that it was under new ownership. As long our books continue getting such positive reviews we don’t care who’s the owner.
More than one critic has suggested that this name, shared with the century’s most famous movie star, accounts in part for the obscurity suffered by such a consistently delightful writer. If true, it’s the kind of sad irony that would have been appreciated by Taylor, who over the course of 12 novels and dozens of short stories written between 1943 and her death in 1975 returned repeatedly to the subject of women forced to be wives and mothers first and only then, if at all, writers, artists or simply human beings.
"After Christmas, the days were of an enervating neutrality. The watery light stayed later each day, hung colourless above the railway-bridge and behind the gray and yellow brick terraces. The deep darkness of winter was over, the muffled cosiness of the foggy afternoons, and now there would be two months or more of biting winds raking the bare branches and this pale light stretching out a minute or two longer each tea-time—as if it were welcome, thought Angel. ‘Saving the gas,’ her mother said.
"In the shop trade fell off, and during the long evenings the door-bell scarcely rang. Mrs Deverell removed the cotton-wool snowflakes from the window, wondering why she had bothered with them. Her spirits had risen before Christmas, with so much bonhomie about: now they sank rapidly. There were wholesalers’ bills to be paid: left-over Christmas cakes, reduced in price, were stacked out the counter, but no one bought them."
—from Angel, by Elizabeth Taylor, on sale February 14, 2012
Image shows Romola Garai as Angel Deverell in the 2007 film adaptation of Angel, directed by François Ozon.