Elizabeth Taylor: Blaming (1976)

When Amy’s husband dies on holiday in Istanbul, she is supported by the kindly but rather slovenly Martha, a young American novelist who lives in London. Upon their return to England, Amy is ungratefully reluctant to maintain their friendship, but the skeins of their existence seem inextricably linked as grief gives way to resilience and again to tragedy. Reversals of fortune and a compelling cast of characters, including Ernie, ex-sailor turned housekeeper, and Amy’s wonderfully precocious granddaughters, add spice to a novel that delights even as it unveils the most uncomfortable human emotions.

Blaming was my first Elizabeth Taylor novel. I read a recommendation on amazon a few months back and was very interested to read it. It is Elizabeth Taylor’s last novel. She wrote it while she was dying of cancer and it was published posthumously. This got me thinking quite a bit. To think that someone who knows his own death is approaching rapidly would write such a depressing novel makes me very sad. From a stylistic point of view this is a fascinating book. She is an accomplished writer and I truly admire her art. Her descriptions of places, actions and people ring true. There is an episode in which Martha and Amy are having dinner. Amy waits for Martha to eat but she keeps on talking and puts her fork down again and again. Such an exasperating habit that I have watched many times in people. The world Elizabeth Taylor creates is a very desolate one. There is hardly any person in this book that likes any of the others. Amy is by far the worst. She seems very judgmental of people and most of the time she doesn’t even register them. Her grief is intense but more because she has lost comfort and company than because she seems to miss her husband. I got the impression that she uses everybody and found her very boring. Towards the end she seems to develop a certain consciousness of her failings. Hence the blaming. But she is not the only one who fails. They all fail each other one way or the other.

Elizabeth Taylor ‘s daughter wrote an afterword in which she said she liked this and other novels because of the sense of humour. Especially also in the depiction of the granddaughters. Now that is something that eludes me. I did not think it was funny in any way. Those two girls, especially Isobel, are the most obnoxious fictional children I have ever come across. Unfortunately they seem very realistic.

I don’t necessarily mind reading something sad but this seems such a restrained world and apart from the American Martha and the factotum Ernie, they are  uninteresting people.

Since I often read as a writer and not only as a reader I would probably read another one of her books some day.

Just a quote to illustrate why:

Back along the suburban streets with the admired privet hedges, the houses with their bowed and bayed windows, the skeleton laburnums which in spring would give such pleasure. Gardens were all in darkness now, but television lit up rooms, or shadows passed behind drawn curtains. Sometimes light sprang up in bedrooms.

Any suggestions for another of her novels? Did I pick the dreariest one?