I shall start by answering the question that everyone who has seen me reading the book has asked. No, it is not ‘THE’ Elizabeth Taylor. It was written by Elizabeth Taylor the novelist (obviously) who was lived 1912-1975 and wrote a number of books and short stories.
In A Summer Season was first published in 1961 I believe (I have loaned the book to my mate, so don’t have it to hand to refer to!) but to be honest, unless you knew that, I think you’d be hard-placed to date it, as there are barely any external references used within the book, and the subject matter could almost date anywhere from the 40s onwards!
The book is a snapshot of the life of a rural upper-middle class family during one summer. Kate was a widow, but has remarried and her new husband of one year is scandalously a whole 10 years older than her! We start with her visiting her new mother-in-law and then visiting the hairdresser who suggests ‘a colour wash’. The rest of the family include her husband Dermot – a rather fickle, lazy type; her elderly Aunt Ethel who lives with them and is obsessed with whether Kate’s second marriage will fail; her 21 year old son Tom who is learning the family business and is a bit of a heart-breaker; her 16 year old daughter Louisa who is infatuated with the local young curate.
Nothing much happens during the majority of the book, but as I said, it’s a fabulous snapshot of times gone by – especially about prejudices and social expectations. Even in the first paragraph, Kate mentions the fact that ‘…one of Edwina’s ‘foreign girls’ opened the door.” There is also a wonderful dinner, attended by the household, Dermot’s mother, Kate’s father, the curate and Tom’s Spanish girlfriend where everyone seems to be very polite, butthe barbed comments are hilarious.
And I think that this is Elizabeth Taylor’s strength in writing. I put the book on my wish list some time ago, yet again because I’d heard someone talking about it on Radio 4. The characters feel so real, they are so well drawn, you can picture them all sitting in the room with you. I could almost taste the summer air all the way through. It was at times so prim, and yet there were some quite racy elements.
There was a real wit to her observations and writing, especially in her dialogue, and the many instances where the character’s thoughts were detailed – usually what they didn’t say being so much more cutting / insightful / witty than their actual remarks.
I loved it, I really did – and I will definitely seek out her other books at some stage.