Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Angel by Elizabeth Taylor (1957)

Somewhere towards the end of Angel by Elizabeth Taylor, the character of the same name says (coldly): "I am never embarassed."  That could be the leit motif of one of the most embarassingly hideous and fascinating (a friend described her as "odious" which is perfect) characters I think I've ever read about.  At the beginning of the novel, Angel is a spoiled, petulant teenager with no friends or father, an overly doting mother who is terrified of her, and an aunt who recognizes the truth about her.  She's curiuosly modern for a character from 1900; she is unlike any Edwardian character I've ever read about before.  Any romance about her is drowned by her arrogance, her obstancy, her crassness, all embarrassingly so.  By the end, she's almost a Miss Havisham type of character (I'd describe her more as a Sunset Boulevard type of character actually, but I've never seen the movie and I have read Great Expectations).  But she remains modern throughout; this is one of the joys of this novel.  It's like Elizabeth Taylor was foreseeing in 1957 a both a certain kind of celebrity and a certain kind of person.  We all know a person like Angel; socially awkward but never aware of it, friendless, always saying an doing the wrong thing, wearing the wrong type of clothes.  About that kind of person in the 21st century, we might say today they were "on the spectrum."  Taylor then takes that person we all know, and gives the power of celebrity.  That kind of odd celebrity that says and does whatever she wants, and seems oblivious to the standards of society, that kind of celebrity that people both adore and hate, the talentless kind who are still famous.  There are actresses like this, and pop stars.  Celebutants.  Maybe all celebrities have a bit of this.  They just can't be bothered.  They are famous for their art, and the public both be damned and be loved.  Every celebrity has their Nora, the adoring flunky too, who stands by them and puts up with them, and keeps their whims satisified, and praises their art.  It's how bad movies get made, how bad albums are produced.

It's a tremendously fun book to read.  Angel is so dislikabled, yet liked. You are repelled by her, and feel sorry for her, yet she's not a figure of pity either.  She's not embarassed or even aware that her life is strange and beyond the pale.

AngelAngel by Elizabeth  Taylor
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Somewhere towards the end of  Angel by Elizabeth Taylor, the character of the same name says (coldly): "I am never embarrassed."  That could be the leit motif of one of the most embarrassingly hideous and fascinating (a friend described her as "odious" which is perfect) characters I think I've ever read about.  Really, she is awful.  Terrible.  Horrible and hateful.  Yet, and yet, strangely attractive.  Kind of (tritely) like a train wreck, you just can't stop reading about her, to see what awful thing she will write or think or do next. You are embarrassed for her, face flushing, cringingly ashamed - yet she is not.  Ever.   We also all know someone like her - socially awkward yet arrogant, unteachable yet (as the saying goes) "can fall into a vat of shit and come out smelling like a rose."  Angel is never you or me, right?  She's always someone else, a neighbor, an annoying person on Facebook, a colleague.  But deep down, I think we're always afraid that Angel IS us, which makes her story all the more engaging; you read for clues about yourself and your own wellness and well being.  Additionally, the story of Angel is the story of a certain kind of celebrity (or probably most celebrities).   You'd think the concept of celebrity was a new thing, wrought by the internet, but actually Taylor was writing in the 1950s about a turn of the century celebrity.  Yet Angel is one that could easily fill the the gossip blogs today.  Fading star, sans makeup, caught blah blah blahing... I am never embarrassed describes most celebrities haunting our lives today (Kardashian, anyone?).  Judge not though.  


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