In A Game of Hide and Seek Elizabeth Taylor has created a heartbreakingly poignant love story. Though this is in no way a conventional girl meets boy happy ever after kind of love story. I imagine the story was shaped largely by events in Elizabeth Taylor’s own life – and this shows in the absolutely exquisite writing and what feels for the reader, as an absolute authenticity. Nicola Beauman author of The Other Elizabeth Taylor considers the character of Harriet – along with that of Julia in At Mrs Lippincote’s to be the characters most like Elizabeth Taylor herself. I was also reminded strongly of a short story in The Blush – called Goodbye, Goodbye – in which a man breaks his promise to never see again the woman he had a relationship with years earlier. Maybe there was a little of Elizabeth Taylor in the character of Caroline in that story too.
At eighteen Harriet and Vesey have already known each other for years, his aunt and her mother were great friends, suffragettes once imprisoned together. Vesey is carelessly rebellious – Harriet loves him quietly and nervously. When Vesey goes to Oxford – their lives begin to diverge. Harriet waits anxiously for news of him. Following the death of her mother Harriet marries Charles, older and dependable he provides her with a lovely conventional home, and draws her into a social circle that includes Kitty and Tiny. Vesey is never forgotten by Harriet who only glimpses him only briefly thereafter – until he returns to her when they are both middle aged - he a rather down at heel actor she a mother of a fifteen year old daughter. Harriet finds herself disregarding her marriage in order to see more of Vesey, a situation that Charles and Kitty soon become aware of. The ending in many ways is the right one although inevitably sad - and one I think I will keep thinking about for many days.
Life for Harriet passes by quickly – in the narrative the years speed by – just as in life Suddenly she is middle aged with an almost grown daughter, more than once she wishes she could be young again – that she and Vesey could have their time over.
“If only we were young again!” she said in a tired voice “And might have a second chance”
The daily routines of a conventional wife and mother are brilliantly reproduced. The conversations between Harriet and her daily help Mrs Curzon, the frustrations with her mother in law, the dullness and disappointments of life. These are the preoccupations of many middle class women and Elizabeth Taylor’s view of them is sharp. Even Harriet’s view of foreigners seems so like Elizabeth Taylor’s would have been, rather modern by the standards of the time she absolutely understood how it would feel to be cast adrift in a new country – the confusion and incomprehension of England and it’s ways . Children are done brilliantly as ever – their little observations and worries beautifully observed. Time and again in her writing Elizabeth Taylor shows how wonderfully well she understands children. It is often in these wonderful observations of children and childhood that we see some of the best examples of Elizabeth Taylor’s wonderful wit.
“Deirdre suddenly remembered that she would get infantile paralysis if she ate ice cream that had not been made in her own home.”
Elizabeth Jane Howard considers A Game of Hide and Seek to be probably her best novel – she said as much at the Elizabeth Taylor event in Reading recently – and although there are three I have yet to read – I think I already agree. This is a wonderful novel. What more is there to say?