I hardly ever join in read-alongs these days - I used to find them fun but sometimes stressful. trying to fulfil the requirements when perhaps I'd rather be reading something else. But I do like Simon and Kaggsy's year clubs and have managed to join in each time, even if it means recycling old reviews. This time, for 1951, I provided myself with a copy of The Daughter of Time, but then I went away for a week and forgot to take it with me. I'm going home today so maybe I'll get it read by the end of the week. Meanwhile here's an old review rehashed for the occasion.
As soon as I first read a review of this novel 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 Elizabeth Taylor's novels -- the usual suspects, Angel and Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont, and her last novel, Blaming -- and quite recently I read Nicola Beauman's biography, The Other Elizabeth Taylor. Having read that fine book, which revealed among many other things that Taylor 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 had come out a few years before and is actually referred to in this novel. But the encounter described here is far from 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.
Elizabeth Taylor 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 Taylor brilliantly conveys subtle shades of feeling all the way through -- I think she is justly being recognised now as a really important novelist.