Ali's Reviews > A View of the Harbour

A View of the Harbour by Elizabeth Taylor
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's review
Mar 08, 2012

it was amazing
Read from March 08 to 11, 2012

Read as part of the Elizabeth Taylor centenary celebrations of the Librarything Virago group – fellow virago readers beware – spoilers ahead.

A View of the Harbour was Elizabeth Taylor’s third published novel. The setting is a delight, a rather down at heel seaside town, with a wonderful cast of characters. There is the invalided and irascible Mrs Bracey and her two daughters, lonely, widowed Lily Watson, living above the waxworks, who goes to The Anchor to break up the evening. Beth a writer living with her two daughters and doctor husband next door to her best friend, divorcee Tory Foyle. Into this community where little ever happens, comes retired naval officer Bertram, “insinuating” himself into their lives, and trying to paint a view of the harbour for Ned Pallister the landlord of The Anchor.

Beth caught up with her writing is oblivious to the burgeoning relationship between her friend Tory and her husband Robert. However her elder daughter Prudence isn’t. Lily Watson imagines Bertram could be the cure to her loneliness, but Bertram is rather more interested in Tory, visiting Mrs Bracey, playing dominoes with the old men in The Anchor where he is staying, and painting. Prudence watches her father, watches Tory, as she carries her cats around and develops an odd relationship with a peculiarly intense young man who seems to admire her mother rather more. Mrs Bracey watches her view of the harbour, and the inhabitants of the town, and waits to die.

As so often with Elizabeth Taylor her characters are rather flawed, maybe not always likeable – although I liked Tory and Beth, they seemed very real. The children Stevie and Edward are marvellous; Elizabeth Taylor writes children wonderfully, she fully understands them. Little Stevie’s howling tantrums are funny and sweet. Bertram I wanted to like – but couldn’t really, he’s a bit too good to be true, a little creepy; although not bad I didn’t think. Robert I wanted to shake hard – he’s a selfish cowardly prig, and his view of his own future toward the end fully justified.

I was rather fascinated by Beth and her daughters. I wondered how autobiographical they were if at all. Elizabeth Taylor herself had a secret relationship with a man for many years; here she is writing about a woman whose husband and friend are betraying her. I would have to check back in the biography by Nicola Beauman to see how those events correspond to this novel, but I believe that relationship definitely pre-dated this novel. I wonder how Elizabeth Taylor felt about these characters she created and the situation she created for them.

I thoroughly enjoyed this novel, it is beautifully observed, and the setting and its community are touchingly portrayed. Mrs Bracey pretending to loath the fairground people who come each summer, secretly looking forward to their arrival as it marks for her the beginning of summer. It is therefore poignant when they don’t come, Mrs Bracey dies and Tory and Bertram leave. The reader is left wondering about the future of Tory and Bertram, and their new life, and is left with the impression that life will continue largely unaffected by them in the town of Newby.
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10/28/2016 marked as: read

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