A Wreath of Roses by Elizabeth Taylor (1949)

Taylor is absolutely brilliant at evoking places and times: I could feel the heat of the English summer’s day that opens this novel. She paces things so well: so many words setting the scene, and then a single sentence for the mistimed suicide that neither her characters nor her reader saw coming.

The texture and feel of things is perfectly rendered through almost sensual language, like the warm, smelly messiness of a baby (or sometimes “over-sensual” language: the description of dinner in the hotel – “The fish had shrunk from its blueish bones, was covered with gluey skin, and accompanied by broken potatoes and a little pool of water” – is enough to make you heave), and the ellipses in her novel keep you on your toes. There are parallels and divergences between the characters, and the recent war casts a long shadow over some of the characters – the men who had taken part in it, and the elderly artist who tries to express her horror and fears in paint.

I am sometimes doubtful about the internal monologues, but then Taylor just hits the right note and I am willing to trust her. Part of the story – a murderer on the run – doesn’t work so well, but the rest of it is perfectly crafted.

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