Sunday, 30 January 2011

The Wedding Group (Virago Reading Week Review)

Virago Reading Week is sadly drawing to a close but it has been a fun and inspiring time with so many interesting posts and reminiscences from the blogging world.  Carolyn and Rachel have been absolutely charming hosts and I've really enjoyed getting to know more about this iconic publishing house.

I recently finished reading my second book for this week and my fourth Elizabeth Taylor novel to date (not counting having watched the film adaptation of the touching Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont).  Although it has the trademark sharp and observant style that I have come to expect from Elizabeth Taylor, along with the melancholy and disappointment inherent in most relationships, I felt that this novel was a little 'quieter' than what I was used to and the characters didn't really stir my sympathies as much as in her other novels.

The Wedding Group is a portrait of stifled families and overbearing parents who refuse to relinquish their parental hold over their adult children.  It centres around Cressy, a young woman who rebels against a very enclosed way of life, created by her grandfather - a famous artist.  Cressy is an only child and lives with her parents and extended family in a Catholic commune of sorts that shuns all influences from the outside world.  The period is the late 1960's and Cressy yearns to embrace her generation's passion for television, fast foods, off-the-peg clothes and disposable conveniences.  She manages to find a job and a small room and is content with her freedom, regardless of being naive and unable to care for herself properly.

She eventually becomes involved with David, a journalist who she met at the commune when he was writing a piece, and finds a friend in his mother.  Despite David's more advanced age, he is very much a mommy's boy and a bachelor at heart and his mother only lives for him.  Both David and Cressy are incomplete adults, immature and still tied to the parental strings and unable to embrace adult responsibilities and duties.  The relationship becomes strained as Cressy is continually unable to assume domestic duties and becomes more reliant upon her mother-in-law, whose motives are to keep them both dependent upon her.  Without them, she has no purpose and no life.  David's father (who is separated from his wife and nurses an old aunt) is also an unfulfilled soul dependant upon someone else to give his life purpose. 

It is an absorbing study in family dynamics and the Catholic commune was as interesting as it was repressive.  There is unfortunately not much passion within these characters and Cressy becomes quite irritating as the story progresses.  David becomes an annoyance too as his enmity grows but perhaps this is how we are supposed to feel about these two characters.  There are very lucid observations about growing older and struggling to find meaning and purpose in living that are handled superbly.

Overall, I found it an interesting read but there was no wit or humour to puncture the feelings of repression.  I would not recommend this as the first book to read if you are new to Elizabeth Taylor as it has less happening in it than the others I have read.  Never-the-less, I am always glad to read another Taylor and this book, on the whole, does not disappoint when taken as a study in human relationships. 

Pop over to the Virago Reading Week host blogs for exciting posts and competitions.
Hosted by Carolyn and Rachel


Carolyn said...

This sounds insightful and interesting. I'll have to keep exploring Elizabeth Taylor.

Darlene said...

I had never even heard of Elizabeth Taylor before a few years ago and read my first book by her only last year. Picking up her books a couple at a time, I hope to have them all one of these days.

Nothing like shaking things up a bit so that every novel doesn't read the same. And as the parent of a young adult I had better read a book about what happens if you're overbearing and controlling!

JoAnn said...

Elizabeth Taylor is on my list of authors to read. Although this sounds interesting, I will take your advice and start with a different title. Any recommendations?

Rochester Reader said...

Carolyn: yes, do! I will continue too :-)

Darlene: I quite like the new Virago covers (and the hardcover of 'Hide and Seek') but I only possess one and a green one of 'Angel' (still unread). I would love to own them all, especially since Virago seems to be reprinting the lot (I hope!).

JoAnn: I happened to start with 'In a Summer Season', which I quite enjoyed, so I would recommend it as a start. 'A Game of Hide and Seek' ,however, is my current favourite so I would strongly recommend that one if you like the sound of the blurb. It also comes in a beautiful hardback version which was produced by Virago not so long ago. I'd love to know what you think once you've read a Taylor.

Rachel (Book Snob) said...

I have loved every Elizabeth Taylor I've ever read but I know others have said this was a little disappointing. Great review and I am so glad you've enjoyed the week!