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A View of the Harbour

A View of the Harbour
Elizabeth Taylor
313 pages

'Interesting,' he observed, 'what two people can make of the same view. We all see places a bit different to what the next man does. That stands to reason. (p. 309)

Newby is an English seaside town a bit past its prime. The fishing trade has waned, and summer visitors are not as numerous as before the war. Taylor's imagery brings the scene to life: To the men on the boats the harbour was at first dingy and familiar, a row of buildings, shops, cafe, pub, with peeling plaster of apricot and sky blue; then as the boats steered purposefully from the harbour-mouth to the sea, houses rose up in tiers, the church-tower extricated itself from the roofs, the lettering on the shops faded and the sordid became picturesque. (p. 9)

With this backdrop, A View of the Harbour focuses on the day-to-day events and relationships of the community. Like any small town, people spend a lot of time watching one another and gossiping. Characters are presented first at a distance, as viewed through a window by a neighbor. But Taylor also transitions seamlessly to first-hand accounts of each character, bringing detail, depth and emotion to each situation. Many events play out through the perspective of Bertram, a visitor who has supposedly come to paint the scenery, but manages to insert himself into the lives of several community members. As he becomes acquainted with various people, so does the reader.

Women's friendships are a key theme in the novel. Beth, a writer and mother of two daughters, has been close friends with Tory, a vain and frivolous divorcee, since they were in school. Although these two women were close as children, now they have little in common but still turn to each other for support. And, sadly, each puts relationships with men ahead of their relationship with each other.

I love Elizabeth Taylor's writing, which so vividly evokes the shabby seaside town and the recent impact of the war on its inhabitants. And her characters are "real people," that could be found anywhere. I am looking forward to reading more by this wonderful author.  (