Reviews||

Belated by Elizabeth Russell Taylor

6th Jun 2014

★★★★
Belated
With Belated and Other Stories, her first publication since 2000, Elizabeth Russell Taylor is back to remind us why we should all be intellectually-crushing on this 83-year-old campaigner.

Elizabeth Russell Taylor has been around for a while and has dabbled in everything from straight fiction to children’s books to translation and newspaper work.

Her name, however, is more likely to be familiar to readers from her frequent journalism, activism and appearances on Women’s Hour. Now, with the publications of Belated, Russell Taylor has fully realised her potential as a short story writer and the result is compelling.

Dotted around mainland Europe and the UK, Belated serves up a slice of nostalgia with a rusty nail in the middle of it. No sooner do you settle in and get comfy in Russell Taylor’s world of post-war Britain, German hiking holidays and courtly love than she pulls the rug out from under you.

Dotted around mainland Europe and the UK, Belated serves up a slice of nostalgia with a rusty nail in the middle of it. No sooner do you settle in and get comfy in Russell Taylor’s world of post-war Britain, German hiking holidays and courtly love than she pulls the rug out from under you.As all good short stories should do, every chapter encapsulates an entire world and histories are painted in a few sparse sentences. Russell Taylor doesn’t deal in heroes and villains but she does allow her characters flaws to endear them to the reader.

Despite the distinct nature of each story, Russell Taylor confines herself to a relatively small number of themes; unhappy marriages and very-happy love affairs, longing for a lost world and the embracing of a new one. These timeless scenarios allow Russell Taylor to demonstrate her unforgiving insights into the nature of human affection and the power of a second chance.

In contrast to this well-worked set of interests Russell Taylor’s stories reflect their author’s varied personal history. Each story contains a piece of its creator in some way pays homage to a fully lived life.

A committed socialist who believes in the abolition of public schools, Russell Taylor is against the systematic closure of the libraries and is an ardent supporter of assisted death.

After a short-lived marriage she resided in Paris and then Hati while conducting an exhausting-sounding career as an interior designer, antiques dealer, translator, journalist and writer. She is basically the archetypal Virago Modern Classics woman and a For Books’ Sake kindred spirit!

With Belated the reader feels like they are being allowed to enter Russell Taylor’s world and to meet a variety of characters and perfectly skewered archetypes from her past.

When the grotesquely pompous academic and his beleaguered wife are introduced the tone shifts to that of Muriel Spark’s Miss Jean Brodie, or Iris Murdoch’s The Severed Head. The story of a lonely widow taking in a lodger to remind her of home has distinct overtones of Mollie Panter-Downes post-war stories.

But no matter how many other authors you can compare Russell Taylor’s writing to, Belated has retained a distinctive voice that accompanies the reader off the page.