Elizabeth Taylor Centenary: Blaming

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Elizabeth Taylor Centenary: Blaming

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1lauralkeet
Nov 30, 2012, 7:33 am

During December we will read and discuss Elizabeth Taylor’s twelfth and last novel, Blaming. The description on the back cover reads:
“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.

Blaming was finished in May 1975, just months before Taylor’s death. Reviews were generally favorable, although the Times Literary Supplement compared Taylor’s books to those of the character Martha: “well reviewed and more or less unknown. Without fretting, she waited to be discovered,” and concluded that “Blaming brings to a quiet conclusion a most honorable literary career.” Taylor was posthumously awarded a Whitbread prize for lifetime achievement.

After all these months reading Taylor, I find it hard to believe she was “more or less unknown” in her lifetime. I feel I know her so well, and I’m a bit sad to have now read all of her novels. Thank goodness I have short stories to look forward to!

Let’s hear your thoughts on Blaming shall we?

2Heaven-Ali
Nov 30, 2012, 5:14 pm

Blaming was the first ET I read a few years ago, and i loved it, so I am really looking forward to it. Before I get to it thought I am going to re-read At Mrs Lippincotes because I didn't read it in January with everyone else as it hadn't seemed that long since I had read it previously. But I want to have read all 12 by the end of 2012 so I have decided to read it before Blaming, so I will have read ET's first and last novel close together, which I think could be interesting.

3lauralkeet
Edited: Nov 30, 2012, 9:33 pm

>2 Heaven-Ali:: that should be quite interesting, I can't wait to see what comparisons and thoughts you have.

I'm over halfway through Blaming and enjoying it. The children provide much-needed relief from the sadness. She does a great job with child characters (thinking here also of Oliver in At Mrs Lippincote's).

4Soupdragon
Dec 1, 2012, 9:41 am

I read Blaming in 2008 originally and wasn't too sure about it. Now that I've read it again, I appreciate it much, much more. I agree the children provide light relief, not only for the reader but eventually for their grandmother too, though I think she finds the younger one hard work. There's a moment when Amy is enjoying a cuddle with the littlest girl but the girl quickly pulls away. I thought that was sad but very believable!

I'll be making guest appearances on Laura's blog over the next four Sundays to discuss Blaming. If I remember, I'll also try to post on the Centenary Facebook page but I'm very bad at remembering Facebook. I usually only go on when I get an email alert or friends ask me if I've seen their posts and I haven't!

5Soupdragon
Edited: Dec 1, 2012, 9:55 am

>2 Heaven-Ali:: Ali, it will be interesting to see what your final thoughts on Taylor's first and last novels are. There seemed to be a feeling with some of us who read At Mrs Lippincote's this year that it was lacking in structure. I've been wondering if it actually is less structured than Taylor's latest novels or whether we've learnt to read Tayor differently this year and either appreciate, or live with, her sometimes loose plotting.

6lauralkeet
Dec 2, 2012, 11:44 am

Dee's first post is up on my blog today!
Culture Clashes and Generation Gaps in Blaming

I love her analysis and it was fun for me to read this after finishing the book yesterday. Here's a comment I posted on the blog:
I liked its quiet, sad tone as we walk beside Amy through her first year as a widow. The friendship with Martha was indeed odd — these two would never have become friends if it weren’t for Martha coming to Amy’s aid when she was newly bereaved. In fact, I’m not sure they ever were friends in Amy’s mind, it seems she considered Martha more of a convenience, someone who kept her from being alone without being a true intimate. The culture clash figures strongly here, For Americans, even a brief encounter can result in a close friendship (or be perceived as such), particularly if borne from a shared experience. The English are more reticent and require much more time spent together before considering a relationship “close,” It seems Martha assumed too much — her feelings for Amy were not reciprocated but Martha never figured that out.


7criggall
Dec 2, 2012, 1:59 pm

That comment above was so interesting to me as I have just finished reading Edith Wharton's The Age of Innocence, written and published in 1920 but set entirely (except for the last chapter) in the New York of the 1870's. In this novel a tiny offstage incident is reported, of a British lady coming to the aid of an two American ladies, on holiday in Italy. After coming to their aid, the British lady remained in contact with the Americans, to their surprise, and insisted on Americans from the same family visiting her while in London, which they felt obliged to do but without any great enjoyment. So the codes of behaviour in this situation, between US and UK, were at that time reversed.

8Soupdragon
Dec 2, 2012, 2:32 pm

Thanks for posting my post, Laura - and dealing with the photo and links!

That is interesting about the different perceptions of friendship, particularly as the scenarios are similar with an individual helping another whilst on holiday. Perhaps the one that feels beholden to feels less inclined to friendship in that type of situation? Amy certainly wouldn't have any positive memories to associate with her holiday with Martha.

9Heaven-Ali
Dec 2, 2012, 2:35 pm

I'm going to save reading the posts until I read Blaming, i am currently re-reading At Mrs Lippincote's (loving it) then will be reading William: an Englishman for blogger Savidgereads readalong - phew - then maybe I can get to Blaming ; )

10lauralkeet
Dec 2, 2012, 3:16 pm

Interesting comments on the friendship topic! You might be right about feeling beholden, Dee.

11Soupdragon
Dec 4, 2012, 7:42 am

Has anyone else started Blaming yet?

Laura has written a wonderful review which is concise and spoiler-free but sums up the book perfectly.

Ali, I'm glad you're enjoying At Mrs Lippincote's. I still have A Game of Hide and Seek to read but am not sure that I'll get to it before the end of the month/year!

12kaggsy
Dec 4, 2012, 9:40 am

I am desperately trying to finish my chunkster so I can read last month and this month's Taylors - I have got very behind, sorry :(

13Soupdragon
Dec 4, 2012, 9:44 am

>12 kaggsy:: Well, if you don't read them this month, you've got something to look forward to in 2013 :)

14kaggsy
Dec 4, 2012, 11:00 am

True!! But I am determined that I will at least finish the novels in the centenary year!

15Heaven-Ali
Dec 4, 2012, 4:05 pm

Having now finished At Mrs Lippincote's, I will try hard to get to Blaming next week, I remember liking it very much when I first read it.

16LyzzyBee
Dec 7, 2012, 1:42 am

I've finished Blaming, couldn't put it down. Review to follow when I've done a load of work!

17rainpebble
Dec 7, 2012, 2:17 pm

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. It 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. 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?
"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 E.T. 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.

18Heaven-Ali
Edited: Dec 9, 2012, 2:24 am

Have now started Blaming

19Soupdragon
Edited: Dec 9, 2012, 6:30 am

>17 rainpebble::Hi Belva, I loved your review.

I wouldn't say Blaming was my absolute favourite Taylor but it is one of her novels which I admire the most. It seems faultless in the sense that there's not a word out of place or anywhere where I felt she could have structured things better.

I'm glad the book helped you through a wobbly phase and know exactly what you mean about the difficulties in what to read next. I had the exact same feeling and thought that whatever book I chose, I might make unfair comparisons and be doing it a disservice!

>16 LyzzyBee:: Glad you enjoyed it too, Liz!

20souloftherose
Dec 11, 2012, 3:26 pm

I spent a very happy Sunday reading Blaming and could only put it down for brief trips to the teapot inter alia. It's not my favourite Taylor, but only because the standard is so high. I really enjoyed it.

As always with Taylor I loved the children: Isobel such a handful and Dora sounding so old and sensible. I laughed out loud at some of Dora's lines:

Dora lay propped up on one elbow, waiting to see who would come, hoping for some sort of behaviour. "I shall never be fit for school tomorrow," she said in her father's manner. "I do think that white blouse suits you, Grandma. It doesn't show the dandruff."

#6 Dee, I really enjoyed your blog post, particularly your comments about how Taylor's world has changed since At Mrs Lippincote's in the 1940s. As I was reading Blaming, particularly the party at James and Maggie's house, I was really struck by how 1970s it was (taramasalata!) and, as you say, how out of place Amy seems to feel.

I think someone else commented in the discussion thread for one of the other books (and I can't remember who or for what book - sorry), how interesting it would have been, if Elizabeth Taylor, had lived longer, to see how she would write about the 1980s or the 1990s and I thought of that again when I read this.

#17 "As of this moment Blaming is my very favorite of Elizabeth Taylor's works. I know this will change with the next one"

Belva, I often feel the same way about her books :-) It's wonderful to find a writer you feel that way about isn't it?

"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?
"What is it tonight...what are you talking about?" Amy asked, having learned that she must ask questions."


The relationship between Martha and Amy obviously touched a nerve for me as I found myself feeling rather defensive on Amy's behalf. Why should she ask questions? But also feeling sorry for Martha, always wanting to be asked and never getting that satisfaction.

21souloftherose
Dec 11, 2012, 3:29 pm

And spoilers:

I was really shocked at the ending. What is it with Taylor and sudden deaths?

#17 Missed this before:

"One thing I admire so much in E.T. 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."

Belva, you put it so well - that's exactly what I like about Taylor.

22Soupdragon
Dec 12, 2012, 4:48 am

20: Thank you Heather, that party was so very 1970s wasn't it? I couldn't help wondering whether Taylor shared any of Amy's reservations about contemporary life!

21: I agree!

23lauralkeet
Dec 12, 2012, 7:58 am

I had to Google taramasalata. It looks god awful! Yet another artifact best left behind in the 70s.

24LyzzyBee
Dec 12, 2012, 10:08 am

I've eaten taramasalata in this decade! It's very nice!

25Soupdragon
Dec 12, 2012, 3:54 pm

I haven't eaten taramasalata since the seventies. My mum used to love it but my dad thought it was disgusting. Funnily enough, my mum also used to love Wimpy burgers which are mentioned in The Wedding Group but my father refused to go to a Wimpy bar with her. I think he was on Taylor's side ;)

26Soupdragon
Dec 16, 2012, 5:16 am

My new post on Blaming is now up on Laura's blog which looks at bereavement and guilt in Blaming. It does look at events that happen right up until the end of the book, so best avoided until you've finished reading Blaming. My earlier posts are spoiler-free though.

27criggall
Dec 18, 2012, 1:29 pm

But taramasalata has followed us into the 21st century, along with hummous!

I rather felt that Ernie had stepped out of a novel by Angus Wilson, loved "Picassio". He's got it made, that bloke.

28lauralkeet
Dec 23, 2012, 9:17 am

Dee's last guest post is up now on my blog; click here. Dee has been an amazing guest host. She keeps saying she doesn't want to start her own blog, but I think she'd be marvelous.

Thank you for hosting this month, Dee!

29Soupdragon
Dec 23, 2012, 9:44 am

>28 lauralkeet:: Thank you dear Laura, for lending me a space on your blog, calming my nerves, boosting my confidence, coping with several last minute edits to post two, transforming my words on a Word document into a blog piece and generally providing all the practical and moral support I needed! You are a Virago star!

I don't think I'll ever have my own blog, but up to around five years ago I hardly used the internet and was reading mostly the same authors day in and day out, so who knows what the next five years will bring?!

30kaggsy
Dec 24, 2012, 5:11 am

29: Dee, your posts were excellent - thank you!

I never thought I would have my own blog but I have managed this year - though it *is* hard sometimes to fit it in between real life! Frankly, I'm very non-techno so if I can cope, I think anyone could!

And thank you *so* much for the copy of A View of The Harbour - it's lovely!

31Soupdragon
Dec 26, 2012, 5:26 pm

30: Thank you, Karen! I'm glad A View of The Harbour arrived in good time, I was a bit worried about the Christmas post.

32kdcdavis
Dec 30, 2012, 12:03 am

I got my copy of Blaming from the library, and it wasn't a VMC--just a dated-looking hardcover--so at first it almost didn't feel like I was reading one of ET's books! There were things I liked about it--Dora and Isabel, Martha's fidgeting, Nick's paintings--and things I didn't--the disappointingly flat character of Ernie, Amy's mealy-mouthedness.

33criggall
Dec 30, 2012, 12:08 pm

Now that I've read/re-read/re-re-read all 12 ET novels, I wonder very much what I'll be reading in 2013. Well, January's bookgroup choice is Therese Raquin, not a bundle of laughs esp. for this grim time of year.

This has been an excellent web experience during 2012 and I'd like to wish all my fellow VMC readers a Happy New Year.

34lauralkeet
Dec 30, 2012, 1:40 pm

>33 criggall:: Pym would be a nice antidote to the Zola!