The mid-twentieth century British novelist Elizabeth Taylor
numbered among her admirers Elizabeth Bowen, Ivy Compton-
Burnett, and Kingsley Amis. She also regularly published stories
in The New Yorker for close to two decades. For all that, her
work, as steely as it is delicate, remains the secret of a small
number of intensely devoted readers.
The publication of her finest novel, A Game of Hide and Seek,
long unavailable in the United States, should help to change
that. This is an unabashed love story, capturing all the uncertainty
and inevitability and deceptiveness of true love, tracking
the shifting currents of emotional life, and never yielding to
melodrama. Set in Britain between the wars, a time of transition
between old convention and new ways, the book has for a
heroine Harriet, the only child of a suffragette, whom we meet
as a shy and domestic and not especially smart or pretty girl.
At eighteen she falls in love with Vesey, but after Vesey must
go away, she marries another man, Charles, and bears a child.
Then Vesey returns.
Love is at the center of the book, but so too is Taylor’s extraordinary
knack for depicting characters. The minor figures in
the book—from Harriet’s mother’s friend Caroline, with her
progressive politics, to Charles, his coworkers, and his mother,
to Betsy with her schoolgirl crush on her Greek teacher—are as
memorable as the passion and heartache of Harriet and Vesey.