Book review: Palladian by Elizabeth Taylor (Virago Press, 2011 )
‘She was setting out with nothing to commend her to such a profession, beyond the fact of her school lessons being fresh still in her mind and, along with that, a very proper willingness to fall in love, the more despairingly the better, with her employer.’
When Cassandra Dashwood’s father dies, she is orphaned and takes up the position of governess to precocious Sophy. Her employer Marion Vanbrugh shares his house, rambling, ramshackle Cropthorne Manor, with his bullying cousins, Tom and Margaret, Aunt Tinty, and Nanny, the venomous housekeeper. The atmosphere is hostile, stagnant, and Cassandra wonders what can have caused it; while Marion hides himself away with his books, haunted by the memory of his wife, Tom is hell-bent on drinking himself to destruction.
I got this book because of its connections with Jane Eyre. Actually, I think it’s probably more similar to Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca, because the only Jane Eyre bits in here is that there’s an orphaned governess to a spoiled girl, whose father keeps brooding. Oh, and this isn’t Elizabeth Taylor the Hollywood star, it’s someone else who just happens to have the same name.
Cassandra Dashwood (“Hi, I’m Elizabeth Taylor and I’m a Jane Austen fangirl!”) goes to be a governess for Sophy, a girl of indeterminate age. Other occupants of the run-down house are Sophy’s father, Marion, who keeps brooding over his dead wife. Marion’s cousins Margaret and Tom are doing their thing – Margaret’s pregnant by someone who isn’t her husband, Tom’s a drunk who has an affair with the pub landlord’s wife.
It’s all very … DH Lawrence, for want of a better description.
The narrative starts out following Cassandra, and that is really to be expected, because isn’t she the main character? Then, once she’s at Cropthorne Manor, the point of view character jumps around all the various characters, and they’re all so very, very in want of a smack.
According to the introduction, Taylor is hi-lar-ious, and while her characterisation is great, and her way of pin-pointing the different types of speech depending on social status is spot-on, it’s not what I’d call funny, or even amusing. If anything, it reminds me of DH Lawrence, with the way the characters tend to be annoying gits who are really preachy about their own self-righeousness and who really can’t be bothered to care for anyone but themselves.
2 out of 5 Siamese cats.