Harriet and Vesey meet when they are teenagers, and their love is as intense and instantaneous as it is innocent. But they are young. All life still lies ahead. Vesey heads off hopefully to pursue a career as an actor. Harriet marries and has a child, becoming a settled member of suburban society. And then Vesey returns, the worse for wear, and with him the love whose memory they have both sentimentally cherished, and even after so much has happened it cannot be denied. But things are not at all as they used to be. Love, it seems, is hardly designed to survive life. One of the finest twentieth-century English novelists, Elizabeth Taylor, like her contemporaries Graham Greene, Richard Yates, and Michelangelo Antonioni, was a connoisseur of the modern world’s forsaken zones. Her characters are real, people caught out by their own desires and decisions, and they demand our attention. The be-stilled suburban backwaters she sets out to explore shimmer in her books with the punishing clarity of a desert mirage.
About A Game of Hide and Seek
The mid-twentieth century British novelist Elizabeth Taylor numbered among her admirers Elizabeth Bowen, Ivy Compton- Burnett, and Kingsley Amis. She also regularly published stories in The New Yorker for close to two decades. For all that, her work, as steely as it is delicate, remains the secret of a small number of intensely devoted readers.
The publication of her finest novel, A Game of Hide and Seek, long unavailable in the United States, should help to change that. This is an unabashed love story, capturing all the uncertainty and inevitability and deceptiveness of true love, tracking the shifting currents of emotional life, and never yielding to melodrama. Set in Britain between the wars, a time of transition between old convention and new ways, the book has for a heroine Harriet, the only child of a suffragette, whom we meet as a shy and domestic and not especially smart or pretty girl. At eighteen she falls in love with Vesey, but after Vesey must go away, she marries another man, Charles, and bears a child. Then Vesey returns.
Love is at the center of the book, but so too is Taylor’s extraordinary knack for depicting characters. The minor figures in the book—from Harriet’s mother’s friend Caroline, with her progressive politics, to Charles, his coworkers, and his mother, to Betsy with her schoolgirl crush on her Greek teacher—are as memorable as the passion and heartache of Harriet and Vesey.
“Taylor has the genius of making her characters understood, sometimes with an almost frightening clarity, perhaps because she is compassionate as well as relentless in her delineation of them.” —The New York Times
“Funny, savage and full of loneliness and suppressed emotion.” —Rachel Cooke, The Observer
“It is time that justice was done to Elizabeth Taylor. . . . All her writings could be described as coming into the category of comedy. Comedy is the best vehicle for truths that are too fierce to be borne.” —Anita Brookner
“Elizabeth Taylor is finally being recognized as an important British author: an author of great subtlety, great compassion and great depth. As a reader, I have found huge pleasure in returning to Taylor’s novels and short stories many times over. As a writer I’ve returned to her too—in awe of her achievements, and trying to work out how she does it.” —Sarah Waters