Wednesday, June 20, 2012
Review: Angel, by Elizabeth Taylor
Original date of publication: 1957
My edition: 2012 (NYRB Classics)
Why I decided to read:
How I acquired my copy: Amazon.com, March 2012
This is the third of Elizabeth Taylor’s novels that I’ve read: Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont, which I enjoyed and In a Summer Season, which I couldn’t finish. However, Angel is amazing—probably one of the best novels I’ve red all year.
Set at around the turn of the century, the novel’s heroine, if such she can be called, is one of the most fascinating characters I’ve come across in a long time. Angelica Deverell lives in a drab English town with her mother. A girl with irrepressible imagination, Angel grows up to become a famous novelist who churns out bad novels that her reading public nonetheless loves (Elizabeth Taylor apparently modeled Angel’s novels on those of Ethel M. Dell, who was a famous writers of romances in the early 20th century). Angel has an inflated sense of her own importance. She is obstinate, self-righteous, narcissistic, eccentric, arrogant, insensitive, and has a hard time showing emotion. And yet, I couldn’t stop reading this novel.
Angel’s only redeeming quality is her love of animals—which often gets eclipsed by her bad qualities. She has a way of completely unsettling the people around her—her husband, her publisher, her publisher’s wife, and her sister-in-law/live-in companion (was I the only one who got the subtext of this relationship? Or maybe I’m reading too much into it?). So she’s basically an un-heroine. It’s perhaps for the best that this book is only about 250 pages long, otherwise the reader might get tired of Angel and her behavior pretty quickly.
It wasn’t the author’s intention to make Angel likeable, but I was completed fascinated with her and her story—even as I knew that things weren’t going to turn out quite how she’d planned. In a way, this is a sad kind of commentary—how someone like Angel can rise and then fall so hard over the course of the 30 years this novel is set in. The novel is satire, though—Angel has absolutely no sense of humor, and takes herself too seriously, which is where some of the fun of the novel comes from. My only complaint is that the book seemed rushed sometimes--eg, it jumps from WWI to WWII without filling in the gap between.