You may or may not know that this year is the centenary of Elizabeth Taylor's birth, and various things are happening to celebrate it. You can find out more about this over on Musings, where you will see a list of twelve novels and some links to who is hosting reviews/discussions of each one month by month. This month it is the turn of A Game of Hide and Seek, which is being hosted at Buried in Print, and if you click that link you will find an introduction to the novel and more info. As I read it fairly recently -- well, just over two years ago, actually (how scarily does time fly) -- I am simply reprising my review. If I'd had the novel to hand I'd have tried to update it a bit, but as I haven't, this will have to suffice. It's a bit skimpy, I'm afraid, and I do wish I'd put in those quotes.
When I read Simon's review of this novel a couple of weeks ago I really wanted to read it, and now I have. And it wasn't just because the leading character is called Harriet. I have read a few of ET's novels -- the usual suspects, Angel and Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont, and her last novel, Blaming -- and quite recently Nicola Beauman's biography, The Other Elizabeth Taylor, which I blogged about here. Having read that fine book, which revealed among many other things that ET had a long-standing love affair while she was married, I was interested that to find that this novel is a sort of variation on that same theme. Only a sort of variation, though, as Harriet and Vesey's relationship is much more tentative and frustrating than Elizabeth and Ray Russell's seems to have been. In fact, though the workings out of the plot here are quite different, I was reminded at times of that wonderful film Brief Encounter, which is actually referred to in the novel at one point -- it had come out just a few years before. But the encounter in this novel could hardly be said to be brief.
Harriet falls in love with Vesey when they are both eighteen, and a significant part of the process is indeed a game of hide and seek in which they both end up hiding from the younger children in a hayloft. But their extreme shyness and inexperience prevents anything happening, though both clearly yearn for some development which never actually takes place. But it's not just this game that gives the book its title -- the game is also a metaphor for the nature of the relationship between these two people for many years to come. Vesey disappears to Oxford -- Harriet marries kindly but unexciting Charles -- Vesey, now an unsuccessful actor, comes back into Harriet's life when her daughter Betsy is a teenager herself. Life comes to consist of snatched meetings, lies, hidden, unspoken feelings. You can probably see now why Brief Encounter sprang to mind, and indeed the film does spring to the mind of Vesey's cynical ex-actress mother Julia, whose careless, selfish upbringing of her son clearly is at the root of his problems as an adult. Because Vesey, for my money, was a bit of a mess. It was hard for me to see what Harriet saw in him, but perhaps that was the point -- her feelings were a legacy of that childhood passion, exacerbated by the passionlessness of her marriage. The progress of their affair is so unfulfilling, so largely unconsummated, that it seems only explicable on the basis of an obsession left over from her teenage years.
I agree with Simon -- ET writes beautifully. There are many passages I could quote to prove this, but perhaps you should find out for yourself. I actually found the most enjoyable part of the novel to be the account of the early years -- the teenage angst, the paralysing shyness, the inability to act on one's feelings -- all very well done and entirely recognisable. But ET brilliantly conveys subtle shades of feeling all the way through -- I think she is justly being recognised now as a really important novelist.