Elizabeth Taylor (Yes, yes, whatever, I’m not going to spend the first paragraphs of this review discussing the name thing. Read any other review of her if that’s what you want.) was a deft writer of comic characters and situations who wove her humor into every description. Take this introduction of the protagonist’s mother and deceased father: “Mrs. Deverell’s own married life had been short and flawless in retrospect. Her husband had coughed his way through only a year and a half of married bliss.” Or a later description of one of the less scrupulous characters: “I really haven’t a friend, I suppose, he thought, going through one name after another in his mind; but he meant, I haven’t anyone left to borrow from.” With Angel, Taylor brings us Angel Deverell, a headstrong teen who hates school, lies constantly, and unwittingly shows us the comedy of escapism.
Angel’s extravagant fictions find their place when she discovers writing, which quickly results in her getting the hell out of school and into the office of publisher Theo Gilbright, who will soon be so afraid of her, he will create a fake boss to scapegoat whenever he has to say no to her. (Most of these “no’s” are overridden by Angel anyway.) Despite a robust career as a bad writer, Angel’s life remains her greatest fiction of all: “She was beginning to triumph over reality, and the truth was beginning to leave her in peace.”
Angel Deverell is uncompromisingly resolute, ambitious, self-centered, and hilarious to observe. But she would hate it if she knew you were laughing at her, “She does not find things amusing, and she is on the lookout to prevent anyone else from doing so—particularly if it is to be at her expense,” Theo says discussing Angel with his publishing partner, in a fairly complex moment of irony. “I hope she is not to be too much laughed at.” Then Taylor eggs us on to laugh at Angel’s expense for the rest of the book.
Taylor brings us Angel Deverell, a headstrong teen who hates school, lies constantly, and unwittingly shows us the comedy of escapism.
It’s as if Taylor plucked a character from a novel by Ayn Rand and dropped her into a normal environment. Imagine someone with a sense of humor had written the character Howard Roark, and you have Taylor’s Angel Deverell. She differs from Roark to an extent. She is a successful writer because the writing is bad. Her books, with titles like The Lady Irania, offer escapism for some, and the early-1900s equivalent to so-bad-it’s-good TV for others. I would have probably taken turns reading passages out loud to my friends as I collapsed into giggles.
Taylor writes about writing and art through a warped mirror. Where Taylor is talented and sharp, Angel is too self-indulgent to be either of these things. Perhaps Taylor was creating a model of what she hoped never to become. Sometimes it is more fun to write about personal topics through warped mirrors, and Taylor definitely appears to have had fun writing Angel.
Angel accepts no criticism. She demands to be taken seriously by everyone around her, and yet no one will. She has few friends, hates most people, and only attracts patronizers, sycophants, and opportunists. Her relationships with all of these types are entertaining in their own right. Despite this, Angel begs sympathy from readers. Her inability to understand the realities of the world around her makes her pitiful. At times you relate to Theo who protects her, or Nora, Angel’s close friend and confidant who dotes on her unquestioningly, and their affection towards Angel rubs off. When you witness characters lie and take advantage of Angel, you recognize her vulnerability.
Despite a robust career as a bad writer, Angel’s life remains her greatest fiction of all: “She was beginning to triumph over reality, and the truth was beginning to leave her in peace.”
While her egotism may have created her miniature empire, it is also responsible for its decline. It gave her the freedom to write the way she did without checking herself, but because she refuses to place a finger on the cultural pulse, she loses relevancy, readership, and money. Because she holds close the few friends who are willing to feed her delusions, including Theo whose immediate sense of protection over the fifteen-year-old novelist who once walked through his door becomes more and more condescending into Angel’s adulthood, she’s at the mercy of those who would rather lie to her than support her in crisis.
In a moment when Theo and Nora hold information about Angel’s life that if disclosed to Angel could result in a raging meltdown but eventually lead to positive life-altering changes, they choose to preserve Angel’s false world. Perhaps this was necessary in order to make Angel a tragic figure, but it is disappointing that Taylor chose to avoid a moment that would have not only been empowering to the character (however deluded the character is), but also full of conflict. Giving Angel agency would not have interfered with the comedy, and I suspect, would have only heightened it. This is the only point where I questioned Taylor. I would take Angel’s wrath over her tragedy any day.