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Blaming by Elizabeth Taylor

Blaming (1976)

by Elizabeth Taylor

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Taylor's last novel, published posthumously. Amy, a middle-aged, middle-class woman, Englishly passive and reserved to an almost comical degree, unexpectedly becomes a widow and is drawn into an unlikely and rather unwanted friendship with Martha, a spontaneous, unconventional American. In the hands of most novelists this sort of situation would end happily, with Amy discovering her previously unrealised capacity for enjoying life, but this is Taylor (and not only that, but Taylor in the last months of her life), so it ends badly, and we are left to reflect on blame and guilt and the impossibility of paying our debts to the dead. Depressing, but beautifully written, and full of very perceptive detail, and some really spot-on dialogue. ( )
  thorold | Aug 11, 2015 |
The final novel in the Librarything Virago group’s yearlong centenary readalong, it has been a fantastic reading event. Pop over to Laura’s blog to read Libraything member Dee’s post about what we have read and what we all thought.
Blaming was Elizabeth Taylor’s final novel written in something of a hurry during her final illness, when she knew that she was dying. It is a novel much more character driven than plot driven – as I think is much, if not all of her work. It is a novel about guilt, bereavement and blame.
Amy is a very recognisable Elizabeth Taylor character. Middle aged, middle class, she is often reserved, holding back her thoughts and feelings, taking little interest in people around her. While on holiday aboard ship with her husband Nick, Amy is suddenly widowed, left stranded and bewildered in a foreign country. Incapacitated by grief Amy is befriended by Martha an American writer, a little odd and certainly the type of woman who Amy would generally have had little time for. However Martha takes charge of Amy, accompanying her back to England, even though it means cutting her own holiday short. Once home, Martha proves rather difficult to shake off. Amy is surrounded by people, her son James and his wife Maggie with their two “little girls” the superb Isobel and Dora (brilliant child characters again from Elizabeth Taylor – she knew children so absolutely. Ernie Pounce a kind of male housekeeper who with his new false teeth and slight hypochondria loves nothing more than to fuss around after “madam,” and Gavin, physician and dear old friend, the widower of her one time best friend, calls in regularly. Amy feels no need of Martha, but feels guilty after the care Martha took of her, and allows Martha to visit. However it appears that Martha has some need of Amy, she is a rather lonely figure, happy to push herself forward, inviting herself to Amy’s house, questioning Amy and Ernie about their lives with no embarrassment – seemingly unaware of any awkwardness. Martha soon becomes a regular part of Amy’s life, and Amy finds she has rather less need of James and Maggie, much to their obvious relief. However when a vulnerable Martha herself is in need of support – she is tragically let down by Amy.
Often in Elizabeth Taylor’s novels, it is the peripheral characters that provide the humour that she injects so beautifully even into her more poignant works. In Blaming the gentle humour is provided by Ernie, and Amy’s grandchildren, the “little girls”
“To the children, first thing next morning, Maggie said, “I’m afraid dear Grandpa has died.”
“And gone to heaven,” Isobel said, as if her mother had left something out.
Maggie slightly inclined her head, not to be caught telling a lie by the God she did not believe in.
“And-Gone-To-Heaven” Isobel shouted, standing up, outraged, in her little bed.
“Yes of course.”
“Not everyone goes to heaven,” Dora, who was older said, “Egyptian mummies didn’t go. Or stuffed fishes.”
“No fishes never go,” Isobel agreed “sometimes I eat them. Chickens can’t go nor”
“I don’t really know about heaven,” Dora said in her considered way. “We haven’t done that at school yet. But I know they must go somewhere, or we’d be full up here. People coming and going all the time”
Published after her death this novel brings to a close the work of a remarkable writer; it seems a fitting note to end on. There is an obvious reflective poignancy to this novel, in her brilliantly understated way Elizabeth Taylor draws a discreet veil over her own work. In the afterword to my edition Joanna Kingham writes very movingly about her mother’s battle to finish this novel and the true story behind one of the incidents involving the children.
Incidentally did anyone else notice the marvellous homage to Jane Austen in the scene between James and Maggie at the beginning of Chapter 5? As soon as I read it this time (I know I missed it the first time I read Blaming) I thought ‘oh that’s just like in Sense and Sensibility!’ – And sure enough Jonathan Keates in the introduction to my edition (I read introductions after the novel) draws attention to the very same thing. ( )
2 vote Heaven-Ali | Dec 9, 2012 |
Not feeling well, I took Blaming to bed with me night before last where I read and dozed, read and dozed for twelve hours whereupon I had completed the book. As of this moment Blaming is my very favorite of Elizabeth Taylor's works. I know this will change with the next one but I was very much taken with this story.
This story is about a British couple, Amy and Nick, on vacation touring Istanbul whereupon they come in contact with an American woman, Martha, who seems very needy for English speaking companionship. She leeches onto the them and where they go, she goes as well. As it happens, Nick has an episode and passes away on the trip and Martha is there for Amy all along the way. She gives up the remainder of her holiday to support and be there for Amy whether Amy desires her companionship or not. Turns out she really doesn't but there she is.
When they get back to London Martha continues the contact and 'friendship' with Amy. Amy has long since tired of Martha's company but what does one do and stay within the realm of propriety? Why one soldiers on.
The story felt so real and all of the characters were so easy to identify with and to understand their personalities and eccentricities. I felt as though I was the one walking into Amy's home or into Martha's bedsitter. I especially loved the character of Ernie, Amy's houseman. I found him to be just a lovely man and want an Ernie of my own.
"So Martha came and went in Laurel Walk, rather taken for granted than welcomed. On winter afternoons, she and Amy would walk beside the river while the slimy mudbanks became rosy in the setting sun and gulls collected on them, squabbling; or the water ran by , carrying scum, at full tide."
Can you see it? Can you feel it? I could.
"What is it tonight...what are you talking about?" Amy asked, having learned that she must ask questions."
Loved that bit.
I found the ending to be rather bittersweet and was not expecting it to occur in that manner nor perhaps even with that character. One thing I admire so much in Elizabeth Taylor is that she does not feel the need to tidy up all ends nor to end each storyline. With her books as in life the characters go on to live their lives with the imperfections and blemishes that are on all of our lives.
Blaming was a five star read for me and I don't quite know how to pick up another book after this one. I very highly recommend this one. ( )
5 vote rainpebble | Dec 7, 2012 |
Amy and Nick are an average couple, happily married for years and looking forward to spending their later years together. Unexpectedly, while on holiday, tragedy strikes and leaves Amy a widow. Paralyzed by grief and confusion, Amy accepts help and support from Martha, another member of their holiday touring party. Martha is an odd duck, someone Amy would never have befriended otherwise. But after returning home she feels indebted to her, and Martha becomes a regular visitor in Amy's home. Martha helps fill otherwise long and lonely days, and slowly Amy begins rebuilding her life.

Amy's son James and his wife Maggie repeatedly extend invitations to visit, but Amy is proud and doesn't want to intrude (and, to be fair, James and Maggie have invited Amy more from a sense of duty than anything else). Amy's housekeeper / cook, Ernie Pounce, tries to please her through his efficient service, better-than-average culinary abilities, and fond memories of Nick. And Gareth, her physician and long-time family friend, drops by often just to chat or have a meal. But Martha makes herself such a presence in Amy's life, that Amy is oblivious to care offered by relatives and close friends. And yet, when Martha most needs Amy's help and support, Amy fails her.

Blaming was Taylor's last novel, published just months before her death. It is a quiet, sad book, perhaps reflecting Taylor's own mood at the time, since she knew she was dying of cancer. It is moving in her typically understated way, and yet she also unleashed her brilliant wit in portrayals of Ernie, and Amy's two grandchildren, lightening the mood at just the right moments. While Blaming is not as strong as some of Taylor's early and mid-career novels, it is a fitting conclusion to her work. ( )
7 vote lauralkeet | Dec 3, 2012 |
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» Add other authors (2 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Elizabeth Taylorprimary authorall editionscalculated
Keates, JonathanIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kingham, JoannaAfterwordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Istanbul was cool.
How to pass her time was her problem, and she wondered about other women alone in their houses, wishing their lives away.
“She knew that bereaved people are a great burden to others – no one finding words to say, or ways to behave.”
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"'It was a morning of autumn beauty, with sun on the yellow leaves, and she went for a walk along the towing path. How to pass her time was her problem, and she wondered about other women alone in their houses, wishing their lives away.'

When tragedy strikes Amy on holiday in Istanbul, she is 'adopted' by the kindly but rather slovenly American Martha, who lives in London. Upon their return to England, Amy is ungratefully reluctant to maintain their friendship, but the skeins of their existence seem inextricably linked. With its compelling cast of characters - including Ernie, ex-sailor turned housekeeper, and Amy's wonderfully precocious granddaughters - Blaming delights even as it unveils the most uncomfortable human emotions."
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 184408308X, Paperback)

While on holiday in Istanbul, tragedy strikes, and suddenly the comfortably middle-aged, middle-class Amy is left stranded and a widow. Martha, a young American novelist, kindly helps her, but upon their return to England, Amy is ungratefully reluctant to maintain their friendship—on home soil she realizes that in normal circumstances, Martha isn't the sort of person she would be friends with. But guilt is a hard taskmaster, and Martha has a way of getting under one's skin.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:10:31 -0400)

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