This was a charity shop find – one of a few Elizabeth Taylors that have snuck into my flat over the last couple of weeks despite a pledge not to buy any more of her books until I’d finished at least one of them. For some reason I can’t quite fathom I’ve never really got very far with Taylor despite the fact that I love the sound of her books, and have over the years acquired quite a handful of them. ‘The Blush’ is a collection of short stories - normally a format I really like but something I’ve not been in the mood for recently, but the cover was so pretty and the price so reasonable that I couldn’t leave the book behind.
Happily for me my pound was well spent; it seemed like a good candidate for lunchtime reading and once I started I had to have another story and another. I’m definitely looking out for the Taylor’s other short story collections now, and it’s just possible I’ll do something definite about reading a whole novel. (I might add that the blonde gave me a very old fashioned look when she spotted this, I'm going to have to make her more Ice cream...)
The great thing for me with short stories is that even if I can afford a couple of duds in a collection and still end up loving a book – a novel has to pull me in from the beginning and keep me in. For me the stand out gem was one called ‘Perhaps a family failing’ detailing a young couples wedding night. It’s a failure, a failure of such epic proportions that nothing prepared me for the end (a failure that has nothing to do with sex by the way – not that sort of story at all). Where the tale ends is also masterly – just before any explanations and reckonings have to be made which leaves the imagination to run riot with possibilities in the most satisfying way imaginable.
If there was a dud (and this is a strictly personal opinion) it was the opening story ‘The Ambush’ which I just totally failed to get the point off. I could see something was going on but couldn’t for the life of me work out what. I think this is more my fault than Taylor’s – I’ve mulled it over a few times, and will definitely return to it sometime to see if I have more luck, but I was on safer ground with things like ‘The Letter Writer’s’ a very bittersweet account of what happens when a couple who have spent a decade in communication finally meet face to face. That anxiety over meeting a well known correspondent for the first time is a familiar one (though so far I’ve been lucky and meetings have always been a joy).
If anyone has any tips for how to approach Taylor please tell me – she seems so exactly the sort of writer I should love that my general apathy towards her work upsets me, and after these short stories I feel like I’m on the brink of a great love affair if only I can find the right way in!