Greg's Reviews > Angel

Angel by Elizabeth Taylor
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May 11, 12

bookshelves: girls-girls-girls, fiction
Read from May 06 to 10, 2012

In my feeble attempt to raise the dismal 11% of books read by authors of the fairer sex to a more politically sensitive number this is the fourth book in a row I've read by a woman. I hadn't heard of Elizabeth Taylor (the novelist) until just a couple of months ago when New York Review of Books re-issued two of her novels, this one and another one. Because NYRB make their books look so pleasing I was immediately interested in checking her out. On some recent AIFAF I came across a copy of Angel in a previous edition, that is also aesthetically nice, so I purchased it and now I read it.

I don't know much about Elizabeth Taylor (novelist). She's sort of a mid-century British novelist. This novel is 'nice', in a very genteel way. I mean that in a positive way. It's the kind of novel that you think of as a well-written novel, there is nothing that is really flashy going on, but it's quite enjoyable.

The basis of the novel is following the life of author who writes an absurdly comical romance novel at the age of fifteen, and becomes a best-selling author writing more absurdly comical novels that Edwardian England gobbles up, the lower classes relishing in the ornate descriptions and risque situations of the the rich and powerful, and the more intelligent readers enjoying the absurdities and high-flautin verbosity the ambling authoress ascribes to pages with no regard, or perhaps one would dare to utter in a snickering breath while salaciously slandering the successful scribe at a salon with having an elementary lack of any depth or wit of understanding about the tropes and topics she has taken to put to typeset in her tomes. Angel, the main character in the story, is a humorless sort, who writes novels about the way she thinks the world is, her first being the way she sees Lords and Ladies living in opulent homes, while she lives in a slum. She sees her first novel and subsequent ones as being gravely serious, and is so pig-headed that she won't hear that the world isn't the way she thinks it is.

This is the story of a delusional tyrant. It's quite fun.

If Angel were alive today she would probably be self-publishing barely edited novels and populating message boards complaining about the possibility that someone was going to illegally download her novel, steal a pittance of royalties in between trolling review sites like goodreads to attack reviewers who point out how awful her books are. Or she would be one of those wunder-authors that come out of nowhere and sell a bazillion copies even though their stuff is barely readable dreck. Forgive me, but I kept thinking EL James while reading this, although I have no idea if EL James is a delusional tyrant, or writing novels filled with gross inaccuracies and nonsense. But both owe their financial success to titillating 'the common folk'.

I'm curious to read some more of Elizabeth Taylor (novelist). She sort of reminded me of Dawn Powell, but maybe it was just because they are both roughly writing in the same time (I think, I could be wrong about this, but who needs facts), about artist / author types and with a very crisp clean no-flash style that is a pleasure to read.

I have one more lady author book to finish up before giving all my attention to a guy author who has written what is being called possibly the best book written in the past ten years and by blurbs is promising to be DFW, Gaddis and Pynchon wrapped up with The Wire, and with praise like that I've just got to see if it lives up to the hype. But from my brief foray into books by women (not that I've never read books my women before, I just don't usually think about the gender of the author when I choose books, and apparently that means that almost ninety percent of the time I'm going to pick a book by a guy) I'm starting to think that women are fairly brutal in their representation of female characters. I'm probably just extrapolating but with this book and the Muriel Sparks book I read (and even Dare Me to some degree), there's not so much go-girl! enthusiasm as here is a fairly close look at some women, warts and all and it's not going to be pretty. Not that I was expecting to have picked books that celebrate sisterhood and have women in pants traveling around saying Ya-Ya to each other, or whatever it is that certain books that look like their covers were designed by the same ad agency responsible for douche commercials have in them. I don't know what I'm actually saying, but I did manage to use the word douche in a review without referring to another reviewer or anyone else in a derogatory manner. Yay me!
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Comments (showing 1-8 of 8) (8 new)

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message 1: by Eh?Eh! (new)

Eh?Eh! Yay you!!


message 2: by karen (new)

karen but you did use the expression "the fairer sex."

which should make you some friends.
good luck.


Greg I try my best to make new friends everyday.


message 4: by Sparrow (last edited May 11, 2012 09:13AM) (new)

Sparrow I'm probably just extrapolating but with this book and the Muriel Sparks book I read (and even Dare Me to some degree), there's not so much go-girl! enthusiasm as here is a fairly close look at some women, warts and all and it's not going to be pretty.

I haven't read this book, but I kind of wonder if expectation is somehow involved in this idea. Like, I can't think of a better example right now, but Ian McEwan's men are kind of bastards, or, like, James Joyce's or Hemingway's, or whoever's. And they're all bastards in these specific ways, where you can see their humanity and they inspire sympathy and compassion, but you don't necessarily want to let them stay the weekend on your couch. But, it is so much more common for women to be shown without any distinguishing characteristics - like fair and innocent or dark and evil - that it feels more surprising and almost indecent for women to be exposed in that great of detail. Maybe.


Greg I think you are right. I don't know if I'd say that women are shown without an distinguishing characteristics, but I think if a male author wrote a novel like this there would be an unease about his unfair portrayal of the character. In these two books I'm thinking about one of the common characteristics between the two main characters in this book and the Muriel Sparks book is that they are both very successful, but also very stupid. I think I'd feel uncomfortable reading a book by say Jonthan Franzen that is centered on one character who happens to be a woman with very few redeeming qualities, even if it was an honest description of the character it would still feel like he had some axe to grind.

I do like that you mentioned Ian McEwan, he was one of the contemporary authors I kept thinking of while reading this book.


message 6: by Sparrow (last edited May 11, 2012 09:53AM) (new)

Sparrow Yeah, I think it takes a certain level of either arrogance or of being okay with revealing what you don't know in order to write someone of the opposite gender. And either can be fun to read. I love McEwan's women and Hemingway's women, even though they don't feel very much like women to me. But, there are specifics with them, and specific flaws, even though they do tend to be mostly angels or demons. When a woman writes a flawed woman or a man writes a flawed man, though, there is something different about it. Like, the feeling of alienation and delicacy in writing the opposite gender makes a different story.

I think there is some kind of balance in describing flawed humanity between being stupid and being maudlin, and it is a lot more difficult to get the feel right with the opposite gender.


message 7: by Mark (new)

Mark "I think, I could be wrong about this, but who needs facts"

That made me laugh and you could get a job with most of the british press corps


message 8: by Sketchbook (new)

Sketchbook To up your % I strongly suggest "Lorenzo in Taos" x Mabel Dodge Luhan. One of the best I've read in a while.


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