Still raiding my shelves, I found this novelty: a book by Elizabeth Taylor which I hadn’t previously read. It was her last novel. In an afterword to the book, her daughter describes how determined her mother was to finish it before she died. It’s very short, almost a novella. Amy is widowed suddenly while abroad and is then helped by the kindness of strangers. In her case the (almost) stranger is a younger American woman, Martha, who cuts short her own holiday and takes Amy back to England. Amy’s response is extraordinarily ungracious; she barely shows, let alone feels, any gratitude for Martha’s generosity, a fact her son frequently points out to her. Martha keeps up the acquaintance, barely tolerated by Amy, who has returned to her middle class life with doctor friend calling every evening (no lack of support there) and wants to wipe out the memories she associates with Martha. Then something terrible happens which she feels she could possibly have prevented. She begins blaming herself; but not much.
This is a strange book in which the most sympathetic characters are Amy’s late husband and her son. It’s been suggested that it was partly based on an incident in the author's own life. Was she, in her usual clear sighted manner, blaming not just Amy but herself and in a way saying, ‘Sorry’? We can’t possibly know. While certainly not ranking with her best books, it’s still worth reading, with all the pointed social detail you would expect.
This copy is a Virago Modern Classic and I’m glad I picked it up cheaply rather than paying full price. It has a silly cover which has nothing to do with the story and nasty smudgy print. Tsk.
I’ve now embarked on a re-read of Elizabeth Jane Howard’s Cazalet Chronicles. What a pleasure to have four fat books to read one after the other.