Monday, 20 October 2014

1000th entry: A Game of Hide and Seek by Elizabeth Taylor

published 1951

Section set in the mid-1920s









[A group of children and young people are out buying shoes]


All three of them were united in their praise of Vesey’s choice and as the shoes were only eighteen and elevenpence there would be two shillings left which Vesey said he could quite justifiably spend on ice-cream. Harriet admired the way in which he took his time, discussed his plans, and had shoes lying about all over the floor. The assistant, who had begun with tan Oxfords, now withdrew from the discussion, wearing the look of aloof distaste Vesey had grown so used to seeing on the faces of schoolmasters.

[Later, back at the house]

‘Vesey bought some nice shoes,’ Harriet interposed.

‘Yes, we must look at them after tea.’

‘They are grey,’ Deirdre said.

[Vesey's aunt] Caroline frowned. ‘How do you mean – grey?’

‘They are grey suede,’ Vesey said quietly. He looked down sideways at the tablecloth, leaning back in his chair as if fatigued.

‘Grey suede,’ said Caroline.


‘Yes.’

A little silence fell; or rather, was drawn down. Caroline picked up her cup and drank tea steadily. Her cheekbones were scarlet.

‘Aren’t grey shoes nice?’ Joseph asked. Caroline smiled as she replaced the cup very quietly in its saucer.

‘Nice?’ she repeated in her amused, indulgent voice. ‘I don’t think “nice” or “nasty” enter into it.’



observations: This is certainly the funniest description of shoe-buying I have ever read – the excruciating snobbery and fear of vulgarity (or gayness?) is wonderful – ‘grey suede shoes! What will his mother think?’ Caroline says later. Poor Vesey, doomed forever to rebel in the wrong way. He can’t seem either to conform, or be dashing when he doesn’t. 


As I find to my surprise that I am up to my 1000th entry on this blog, the extract is perfect for several reasons. It is a great book, one I only heard of through blogging, and shows exactly why I like to record clothes (and, of course, accessories) in books - explaining character & social aspirations, and making us laugh, via how people look and what they wear and choose, and how we can or cannot imagine doing the same.

The book is quite fragmentary – the first section has Harriet and Vesey as teenagers visiting and staying in the same house in the country, making clumsy attempts to form a relationship. Vesey isn’t particularly nice to Harriet, and she seems doomed to hopeless passion. Her mother and his aunt are great friends, both were suffragettes years before – they reminded me of Ford Madox Ford’s Parade’s End, recently much on the blog, and Valentine Wannop grown up. 

After a hilarious section where she works in a gown shop (nicer than a dress shop), Harriet meets Charles, a kind, older man with a hilariously awful mother, Julia (the explanation for why she wants a male doctor: "‘A man is half the battle,’ she added mysteriously.")

They marry.

The next section is around 20 years later – some time after WW2, when Harriet is the mother of a teenage girl, living a satisfactory suburban life. Vesey turns up again – a not-particularly-successful actor. And now the book seems to combine the best bits of Barbara Pym, Elizabeth Bowen and Madame Bovary, as the pair realize what they should have known long ago: they love each other. Harriet does not want to hurt her husband, or desert her daughter. There seems no way out. 

The #bookadayuk meme on Twitter is a great way to hear about other people’s favourite books, and this recommendation came from Ali Hope Book Addict: she reviewed the book on her blog a while back – one of the nice things about the meme is that it doesn’t have to be this week’s book or blogpost, you get to hear about old favourites and past reviews. I had read a couple of other books by Taylor, but I am going to agree with Ali that this is the best one so far, and I am endlessly grateful to her for pointing it out.

FYI, in case anyone isn't sure, this is  not Elizabeth Taylor the filmstar, who has popped up on the blog a few times as an actress.

A Game of Hide and Seek is an absolute masterpiece, a really stunning piece of writing. There will  be another entry on this book.

29 comments:

  1. Congratulations on 1000 - you've made this reader look at clothes (and stockings and accessories!) in books with entirely new eyes.

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    1. Thanks so much! And nothing makes me happier than to hear that you are busy spotting for me....

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  2. A great choice for your 1000th entry!

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    1. Thanks Simon! Now I'm off to see what you say about Elizabeth Taylor on your blog.

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  3. Congratulations, Moira. And, as Vicki said, you've made me look a clothes in crime novels in a particular way. Nothing will ever be the same again!

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    1. Thanks Sarah! It's lovely when people point clothes references out to me...

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  4. Moira, many congratulations on your 1,000th milestone. I admire your discipline and consistency in writing about clothes in the books you read every day. It is an aspect of novels that I hadn't thought of till I started reading your blog.

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    1. Thanks Prashant. I think it was the job I was born to do, I haven't yet got bored with or tired of finding clothes references.... and writers certainly show no signs of stopping including them in books!

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  5. I have read a few of her stories and have always been impressed (one in particular, THE FLYPAPER, was very nasty as I recall) - and speaking of being impressed, congrats on your very important landmark Moira!

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    1. Thanks Sergio. I haven't read any of her short stories, I will look out for that one.

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  6. 1000 - impressive, what time scale are we talking, have you always posted daily without exception? Well done anyway! I have a pair of grey desert boots, they don't look quite as smart as those beauties in your photo. I'll pass on the book thanks>

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    1. I'm heading towards 3 years blogggin - I started in January 2012. I missed a couple of days in the first few months, but never since, which surprises me as much as anyone else! I'm thinking I might carry on daily till my 3rd anniversary, then start taking a day off now and again.

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  7. Moira - Congratulations and well done on 1000 posts! And each one excellent, too. I've learned so much from you. I really have.

    Thanks also for sharing this read. I do like the humour woven through it. Such a great look at social pretensions!!

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    1. Thank you for the kind words Margot - and one of the great joys of blogging has been meeting you and all the friends commenting here.

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  8. Fabulous post congratulations on reaching such a milestone. Glad you enjoyed the book too.

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    1. Thank you again for giving me the push I needed to read it. I'll be looking for something else by her soon...

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  9. I think Elizabeth Taylor is a very special novelist, and agree that A Game is one of her best. This extract is just perfect for showing how clothes can build a novel's sense of character, social context, class and period! Wonderful!

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    1. Thanks so much, how kind. I'm now keen to read more of her - I think I have underrated her in the past.

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  10. Congratulations, Moira. I do love your blog.
    Elizabeth Taylor is a novelist I much admire. I think I've read everything, and particularly like In a Summer Season, A Wreath of Roses and The Soul of Kindness. I've blogged about her now and then.

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    1. thanks for the kind words Chrissie. I'll have to look up your reviews, and I am grateful for tips on what to read next. I'm glad to know there's quite a bit for me to discover.

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  11. You may have actually convinced me that I should read this and more by Elizabeth Taylor. I try so hard to resist new (to me) authors, but this does sound very good.

    I don't know why it surprises me that you are at 1000 posts, but it does. Congratulations, it is a lot of work and we all (your readers) gain a lot from it.

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    1. Thank you Tracy - I have so enjoyed getting to know you via our blogs. I know you prefer your mystery fiction, but if you are ever looking for a straight novel then maybe Elizabeth Taylor....

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  12. Moira: Congratulations!!!!!! 1,000 is a lovely number.

    With more awareness of clothes in books through your blog I am wondering if you think there is a decrease in the number of interesting descriptions of clothes in contemporary literature versus earlier generations. When I look around the younger generation in real life I tend not to see much colour (black and black and black) and often less style. Am I being unfair, particularly with regard to young women?

    As a North American when I saw the author's name my first thought was to wonder if the actress, Elizabeth Taylor, had been a writer as a young woman.

    I look forward to the next thousand.

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    1. Thanks so much Bill! I'm cautious about commenting on what young people wear - but I will say that I don't find modern books half so rewarding for clothes entries. But of course that may be just that historical pictures and outfits have that extra interest of age....

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  13. One thousand posts! That's quite an archive!
    Loved this one--I've always had a soft spot for Elizabeth Taylor and for this book in particular. Those absurd grey suede shoes!
    Did you see that E Taylor's grand-daughter is on facebook? I "met" her in a discussion that I think started from that Bookaday meme although it might have been something else.

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    1. Thank you! I loved this book so much - the perfection of the details and the minutiae of people's reactions - and will never look at grey suede shoes the same way. I think I may have missed something with ones I read some years back, and will re-read them with new eyes. Though I do remember finding Angel very funny. No, hadn't come across her granddaughter, I shall follow up, thanks.

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  14. This just popped again and going to comment I find that I already have!

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