Rebecca's Reviews > A View of the Harbour

A View of the Harbour by Elizabeth Taylor
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really liked it
bookshelves: read-via-edelweiss, obscure-classics

My third Taylor – not as good as Mrs. Palfrey, but better than Angel. It’s about the everyday family and romantic entanglements of a small English harbor village in the 1940s. Beth is a preoccupied writer who doesn’t notice that her husband, the local doctor, is carrying on an affair with her best friend, the divorcée Tory, who is also their next-door neighbor. Only Beth and Robert’s daughter Prudence, true to her name, realizes what’s going on. Other main characters include a paralyzed woman on her deathbed and an elderly artist visiting the village and hoping to make a lasting impact on it. Main locations are the hilltop library, the pub (“the subfusc beeriness of the saloon bar”), and, rather creepily, a waxworks.

As always, Taylor has great insight into the human psyche and unlikely relationships. The plot is low on thrills, that’s for sure, but it’s pleasant reading, especially if you’re on holiday at the seaside (I started reading it while on the coast near Dublin). The descriptive language is quite lovely:

Although awaited, the first flash of the lighthouse was always surprising and made of the moment something enchanting and miraculous, sweeping over the pigeon-colored evening with condescension and negligence, half-returning, withdrawing, and then, almost forgotten, opening its fan again across the water ... Seen from afar, the lighthouse merely struck deft blows at the darkness, but to anyone standing under the shelter of its white-washed walls a deeper sense of mystery was invoked: the light remained longer, it seemed, and spread wider, indicating greater ranges of darkness and deeper wonders hidden in that darkness.

(You can see why much has been made of Taylor’s debt to Virginia Woolf.)

It’s also interesting to see the village as a waystation between old-fashioned customs and modernity, with both the good and bad connotations such a status conveys:

life was less varied now, she thoughts, less rich, the streets less crowded – gone the lamplighter and those yellow, spreading gas-lights; gone the organ-grinder with his wretched precocious monkey; gone the drunkenness, the church-going, the wife-beating, the wonderful funerals, the social calls to see the corpse ... Distinctions were smoothed out, no curtsies were dropped, no coins thrown.

Here’s a confusing thing: there are three separate characters called Teddy, Edward, and Eddie. However, in general I appreciated the significant naming in this novel. For instance, Beth and Robert are the Cazabons, an echo of the Casaubons in Middlemarch – except here it’s the wife who’s so caught up in intellectual pursuits she sees nothing else around her. Also Bertram Hemingway, the elderly painter = The Old Man by the Sea? [D’oh, my theory doesn’t work; this was published five years before that Hemingway novella.]
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Reading Progress

September 5, 2015 – Started Reading
September 5, 2015 – Shelved
September 5, 2015 – Shelved as: read-via-edelweiss
September 5, 2015 – Shelved as: obscure-classics
September 7, 2015 – Shelved as: on-hold
September 29, 2015 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-3 of 3 (3 new)

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David I loved this when I read it last year. so far my only Taylor, but Angel and Mrs Palfrey... are the other two I have on my shelves.

Rebecca I'd highly recommend Mrs Palfrey. Taylor deserves to be much better known than she is.

message 3: by Rachel (new)

Rachel Thanks for the review and recommendations of her other books. This seems like my kind of novel.

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