I received an advanced review copy of this title from The New York Review of Books. Please visit their website for a full list of their classics collection of which I am a big fan: http://www.nybooks.com/books/browse/all/?imprint=classics
This novel is about a group of year-round inhabitants of a small harbor town in England. The main focus of the book is on Beth and Robert and their mundane, tired marriage. They have fallen into a routine that Robert feels is boring and lifeless and Beth is so absorbed writing novels that she hardly seems to notice. Beth is also not observant enough to detect the growing attraction between Robert and Beth’s best friend, Tory, who lives next door to them.
Tory and Robert are prone to stolen moments of kisses, embraces and meaningful looks and we are kept in suspense throughout the book as to whether or not they will consummate their relationship. The matter becomes even more complicated when Robert’s teenage daughter, Prudence, discovers that Robert and Beth have feelings for one another. The mounting tension of this love triangle and Prudence’s knowledge of it prove for a page-turning read in which, no matter the outcome, someone is going to be left miserable and heartbroken.
The cast of characters that Taylor provides in this novel are multifaceted. Bertram is an older man who has retired from the navy and lives above the town pub. He has a way of charming himself into everyone’s life and he is especially drawn towards Tory; he has visions of himself finally settling down by marrying her. Taylor hints that Bertram’s life has been itinerant and wandering and when the local gossip is dying he vows, for once, to sit by her deathbed and give her comfort until the bitter end.
Lily Wilson is a young widow who lives alone in a creepy wax museum that she inherited from her husband. She is terribly lonely and afraid at night and spends a lot of time in the pub looking for company. Taylor mentions her more at the beginning of the novel and Lily gradually drops out of site. We are never completely sure what happens to her but there are hints that she finds sordid ways to deal with her grief.
We are also treated to the story of the town gossip, Mrs. Bracey, who has been an invalid for years and relies on her daughters Iris and Maisie to wait on her hand and foot. Maisie has feelings for Eddie, a town fisherman, but her mother keeps interfering in her daughter’s attempt at any time of marriage or happiness. It seems that no one in this small town has any hope of finding peace or love or a “happily-ever-after.”
I highly recommend A VIEW OF THE HARBOUR for your summer reading list. The seaside setting, an interesting cast of characters and Taylor’s lovely prose make this another great read from The New York Review of Books.
About The Author:
Elizabeth Taylor (née Coles) was a popular English novelist and short story writer. Elizabeth Coles was born in Reading, Berkshire in 1912. She was educated at The Abbey School, Reading, and worked as a governess, as a tutor and as a librarian.
In 1936, she married John Micael, a businessman. She lived in Penn, Buckinghamshire, for almost all her married life. Her first novel, At Mrs. Lippincote’s, was published in 1945 and was followed by eleven more. Her short stories were published in various magazines and collected in four volumes. She also wrote a children’s book.
Taylor’s work is mainly concerned with the nuances of “everyday” life and situations, which she writes about with dexterity. Her shrewd but affectionate portrayals of middle class and upper middle class English life won her an audience of discriminating readers, as well as loyal friends in the world of letters. She was a friend of the novelist Ivy Compton-Burnett and of the novelist and critic Robert Liddell. Elizabeth Taylor died at age 63 of cancer.