Elizabeth Taylor

This book’s allure is powerful, disturbing and surprising, just like its heroine. But unlike the protagonist Angel Deverell the writing is filled with a sense of humour and is deliciously spiced with irony. An unsuspecting reader might at times find themselves in sympathy with this disastrously unaware novelist whose fortune rests on the cheap columns of titillating fantasy and whose books go from one day being a secret solace and escape to being thought too poor in quality to be given away for nothing by the fickle reading public.

Angel’s character is decidedly singular throughout. A child with imagination and little else. In her decline she inflicts the benevolence of her presence on local people, variously bringing them to desperation, anger and nervous collapse from her incessant reading, inedible jam and personal egregiousness. Angel sees nothing in her behaviour except charitableness and condescension, utterly impermeable to the perception of others.

Taylor’s prose is tirelessly elegant and without cliche or easy phrasing. The passages vary between scathing depictions of human weakness to poetic descriptions of landscape. Her manipulation of atmosphere and setting its second to none.

Angel is the stereotype of a writer, gloriously trailing cats in her wake reminiscent of Gertrude Groan in Gormenghast, but she has no latent depth of strength. Just as she wills herself into being, she wills the world around to be in her constant thrall, a delusion that becomes a cage.

Taylor’s crisp plotting, so deft you hardly notice how clever it is, and her handling of time and age are skilful, every line of her dialogue and every thought a character shares is revealing. It is a challenge to think of a single word out of place.

The novel is a warning on the many perils of an unfettered and uninformed imagination.Taylor also delivers a stark warning – never, never, never offer to pay bills with autographed books – tradesmen will always prefer cash.


Gabrielle Barnby

July, 2019


Angel by Elizabeth Taylor, book review, Gabrielle Barnby, Orkney,writing

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