Today is another Classics Club Spin, and the book that was chosen for me from my Classics Club list is A Wreath of Roses by Elizabeth Taylor. Compared to the other two books I’ve read by Elizabeth Taylor, this novel seems less blighted in its setting. It takes place in a countryside that is lushly described. But before we get there, a shocking event occurs in the railway station that foreshadows the atmosphere and events to come.
Camilla is on her way for her annual holiday, which she has spent for years with her closest friend Liz and Liz’s former governess, Frances. Frances has become a famous painter, and they stay with her in her home. But this year things are different. First, Camilla has met a man, Richard Elton, on the train. Although she ordinarily wouldn’t have even spoken to him, categorizing him as a certain type, the incident at the train station has shocked them both. Then, Liz has brought along her baby Henry. Liz’s marriage to Arthur, whom Camilla dislikes, has created distance between the two women, and Camilla isn’t interested in the baby. Finally, Frances is looking like an old woman. She has difficulty painting, and has radically changed her style.
But the focus of the novel is on Camilla’s relationship with Richard Elton. When we see him on his own, we realize he is a liar who has difficulty telling his own lies from the truth. He may also be dangerous. He has told Camilla stories about violent activities during the war, but they seem unlikely. And he keeps reading in the paper about the murder of a woman.
Camilla is both repelled by and attracted to Richard. At first, she agrees to see him only to irritate Liz, but then she begins to feel sorry for him. Also, she sees herself drawing ever closer to a sort of dried-up spinsterhood, while Liz is positively blooming in her fecundity.
Although some of Taylor’s other novels are depressing in their realism, A Wreath of Roses is much darker. It juxtaposes the heat and lushness of its country setting with Camilla’s feelings of sterility and the themes of murder and suicide. The novel is disturbing yet compelling.