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.