A newly selected volume of short fiction by a much-admired but not widely known English writer showcases her subtle insights.
Taylor's (1912-1975) reputation has ebbed and flowed in both her native England and in the U.S., where recent reissues of two of her 11 novels, Angel and A Game of Hide and Seek, have helped return her to the public eye. This book of 29 stories, edited and introduced by Drabble, reflects the breadth of her creative life as well as her nuanced grasp of human interactions. The tales are often located in a finely detailed, middle-class domestic setting where the tone and minutiae are very English: gardens, glasses of sherry, village pubs, marmalade, class differences, Austen-ish wit. Frequently noting the weather, the seasons, flora and fauna, Taylor considers, usually from a female perspective, questions of marriage, isolation, love and aging. The collection opens with a novella, Hester Lilly, which charts the strains imposed on an established marriage by the arrival of the husband's young cousin. This theme of individuals struggling within an existing relationship recurs often, as in “Gravement Endommagé,” a glimpse of a couple that has survived wartime separation but is not at peace together. The title story, one of several featuring younger women outgrowing their youth, captures the exquisite discomfort of a daughter deputizing for her mother at a formal dinner. Among the most memorable is “The Letter-Writers,” a model of unarticulated intensity in which two long-term correspondents come together for the first time and fear their “eyes might meet and they would see in one another’s nakedness and total loss.”
Sensitive souls are scrutinized with delicate English understatement.