I made it down to Sussex after joining the commuters at London Victoria station last Friday night in the battle to get to the south coast through the snow and subsequent delays to the rail services. Waiting at Victoria station for over an hour in the freezing cold made me even more grateful to arrive home to my mother’s fully stocked fridge, woodburning stove and library for me to ‘borrow’ from.
In between the various preparations for Christmas and catching up with friends I managed to read The Wedding Group by Elizabeth Taylor. I hasten to add that this is not the diamonds and multi-husbands Elizabeth Taylor but another one entirely – something that I have only recently discovered. The shame.
The Wedding Group is the first novel by Elizabeth Taylor that I have read and I wasn’t blown away by it. The story focuses on Cressy who grew up in an artistic community, Quayne, made up of her family and headed by her Grandfather. Cressy is headstrong and is stifled by life in the community so she is desperate for a means of escape. David, a local young journalist, writes a searing piece about the community and Cressy writes to him with a plea for help. He doesn’t respond to her so she turns to their cleaning woman for help. Through her, Cressy gets a job in the local antiques shop, which is run by David’s friends, and she eventually moves in to the attic.
David starts taking Cressy out to all the places that she has never been to like service stations and diners. He is enthralled by her enthusiasm and naivety and more importantly so is David’s mother, Midge. Midge is the stifling presence within David’s life, manipulative and controlling Midge lives vicariously through David. David still lives with Midge as his father left them.
Eventually, Cressy and David get married and it all starts to unravel. Rather than breakaway from Midge they live nearby and Midge takes complete control of domestic affairs which induces Cressy to become lazier and lazier. Cressy falls pregnant, much to David’s dismay, and they become even more trapped within Midge’s web.
Overriding the ‘apron strings’ issue is the fact that Cressy is lazy and David spoilt. It seems as if all Cressy’s energy went into leaving Quayne only to become trapped in a worse situation. The reader is not surprised when Midge takes over the role of parenting their child, when Cressy becomes fat and David starts having an affair. The whole situation is too depressing for words and frankly it is difficult to have any sympathy for any of the characters – as the reader you want to leap in and give them all a good talking to.
Initially Cressy was the hero as she broke free of the chains of Quayne, but Taylor morphs her into a stupid, lazy and irritating woman who strives for nothing for herself, her husband or her child. David is self-satisfied and self-pitying and Midge is a pathological liar, alcoholic and control freak. Not much going for any of them. Taylor seems to have become confused as to what she wanted the reader to experience. To dislike all the characters is not a problem in itself and quite often can make for an interesting read but the threads become tangled and the characterisation is weak as a result.
It appears that Taylor was trying to write something more than just an exposé on the relationship between mothers and their sons but she doesn’t quite manage to do this. Quayne was an interesting strand within the novel which I felt wasn’t fully pursued and Cressy’s character becomes weaker and weaker towards the end like Taylor got lost with her.
The peripheral characters were not developed thoroughly and I felt frustrated as I tried to piece together their involvement and relevance in the plot. I got a sense that Taylor did not fully jump into what it was she was trying to write – perhaps a lack of direction or even confidence – and this affects the experience for the reader. There are so many interesting themes within the novel, religion, family guilt, addiction, sexual abuse, depression, village life, incest, but none of them are fully developed.
Despite this, it was an enjoyable read from the perspective that it made me think after I had put it down and I am definitely intrigued about Taylor as a writer as she attempts to probe the human condition and peel back the layers of family relationships.
Talking about family relationships, it is Christmas Eve tomorrow so everyone will be descending upon us. I am off to test my relationship with my mother as I go and steal more books off her shelves to keep me going for the (few) quiet moments over the next couple of days (she has masses of Virago’s). I hope you all have a lovely Christmas full of good cheer, mulled wine, friends, relations and comfort.