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It is very disappointing and unfair that Elizabeth Taylor, unlike her character, Angel Deverell, remained a rather obscure writer and if it were not for Francois Ozon, many people (like myself) would have never heard of her books. I only read her Angel and now treasure it so much that don't know when I might venture to read another book by this author. Same, for example, is with Patrick Suskind's Perfume. Whenever I read an exceptionally good book, I start doubting which book by the same author to choose next, if any. It must be the fear of disappointment. After all, I started with the best-known book and what if the others are not up to the high standard? Anyway, one book by Elizabeth Taylor is finished and deserves a review.
Angel Deverell lives in a small town of Norley and is brought up by her mother. Destined by her background to be serving some picky ladies in rich houses or, at best, working in a small office, Angels resorts to daydreaming and dismisses the humiliating ideas imposed on her by her mother and aunt Lottie (who herself is a maid in Paradise House, the perfect estate which dominates Angel's dreams). At the age of 15 Angel is already what we might call nowadays a pathological liar. Once exposed and shamed, she decides to change her life once and for all: She abandons school and starts writing...
No, this is not a typical from-rags-to-riches story. Not even a Hollywood-style fairy-tale about willpower and following one's dream. It is a story about Angel Deverell, an otherworldly creature living in her imaginary world, tailoring and adjusting reality to match her standards and expectations, setting up traps to capture other people and fit them into her dream. Ridiculed by literary critics and idolised by the public, she chooses to ignore the first and takes the second for granted. And yet, however selfish, rude, and vain Angel is, she is undeniably special. Of course, if you are a literary critic yourself, you might say it is Elizabeth's Taylor's style with her brilliant and yet so subtle humour (English humour at its best!) that intrigues you. But I am sure it is Angel.
Elizabeth Taylor depicts a unique and controversial character. A character that develops and transforms from an ambitious girl into an extravagant woman and yet remains a daydreamer and a mystery all her life. With hints carefully left by the author, we can sometimes only wonder about the characters' true motivations and feelings. Thus, unable to divide the book's world into the usual good and bad, we are almost forced to choose our preferred explanation of things - and voila! - we get a glimpse of what it's like to be Angel Deverell.
Quite surprisingly, despite the posh and perfect world Angel lives in, most of the book's descriptions refer to poverty, shabbiness, and everyday routine. Even Paradise House (which is a full-scale independent character of the novel) emerges most prominently in the book when it's already in the state of decay. And only in Angel's mind white peacocks are still walking gracefully on the impeccable silky lawns. As you think of it, more and more contrastive things will be coming into your view until you start wondering whether one should envy Angel Deverell or pity her.
What happens to a personal universe when it is bombarded by reality? What happens when you have reached the horizon of your dreams? Read the book and find the answers. If you are able to face them.
NB: This review is mirrored in my blog at www.artymind.com