Angel, observes another character in Elizabeth Taylor’s
seventh novel, is like an exotic bloom from a cactus plant. She is more
than prickly — she is self-centered, willful, unkind, vain, and
stubborn. Yet there is something marvelous about how Angel listens to
the beat of her own drum. If you usually give up on novels when you
don’t like the main character, you might be surprised by how this
portrait of an unlikable but determined woman draws you in. Taylor
biographer Nicola Beauman said that Angel was partly based on Marie
Corelli, a late-Victorian romance writer who one critic described as "a
woman of deplorable talent who imagined that she was a genius.”
With no evidence, Angel decides she has great writing talent. She does have a vivid imagination, which lands her a publisher. Critics trash her tawdry romance novels, but they sell. Her success allows Angel and her mother to leave their grocery shop and the flat above it. Angel buys the decaying Paradise House, where her aunt worked as a maid and which she had once claimed was her mother’s lost inheritance. There Angel remains. Her mother dies, Angel marries an unproductive artist, her popularity declines, she ages and dies. Not much more happens in this character study.
Virago has reissued all of Taylor’s novels, providing readers an opportunity to discover a writer whose work is greatly admired by other novelists. Taylor’s friend and fellow novelist Elizabeth Jane Howard hailed her as one of the 20th century’s most underappreciated authors.
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