This is how it begins.
“Sometimes in the long summer’s evenings, which are so marked a part of our youth, Harriet and Vesey played hide-and-seek with the younger children, running across the tufted meadows, their shoes yellow with the pollen of buttercups.”
Both the novel, and the story of Harriet’s and Vesey’s love affair, begin in those summer evenings.
Traditionally, when one thinks of two people playing this game (for of course it is a game that can be played with only people as well as it can be played with three or twenty), it is with one hiding while the other is sought.
But in Elizabeth Taylor’s novel, both Harriet and Vesey have agreed to hide together. And someone else is looking on. (Perhaps just the reader, perhaps not.)
As children, they both hid in the loft of the barn (at first, in different places, but then they waited together for the children to find them). And ten-year-old Deirdre sends her younger brother, Joseph, up the ladder for them, “to do the hauling in”.
Because the children knew where to find them; they always hid in the same place. They might have considered hiding elsewhere, but “neither could suggest what might mean their betrayal to one another”.
It’s complicated, this bizarre combination of secrecy and display, this business of looking back and trying to make sense of the past.
But it is a novel of reflection. The second half upon the first (for many years pass between those childhood years and when Harriet and Vesey meet up again in later life). The whole upon the part (for its clear that the teller has overwritten the experiences of a lifetime even on isolated moments, so that the young Harriet and Vesey are not simply found, but hauled in).
The narrative is primarily Harriet’s. The reader views Vesey through her eyes. Though the reader also views Harriet through the reflections of her in the secondary characters who populate the novel.
The scenes in the gown shop (where Harriet goes to work, largely to distract herself from Vesey’s absence in her younger years) are particularly useful (and entertaining) in adding dimensions to Harriet’s character that readers don’t glimpse in other scenes.
Similarly, the children are not there just to have someone to “find” Harriet and Vesey; their relationships with Deirdre and Joseph also demonstrate aspects of character and motivation that are cast in a fresh light. The children in Elizabeth Taylor’s works are consistently well-drawn. They are part innocence and part experience, and the ratios adjust depending on the circumstances.
But ultimately it is the story of Harriet and Vesey.
“After their walk in the woods, Harriet faced the day’s page uncertainly. There was either far too much space or only one-hundredth part enough. Time had expanded and contracted abnormally. That morning and all her childhood seemed the same distance away.”
And, so, there is the challenge of recording such a story.
‘”I cannot put down what happened this evening,’ she wrote mysteriously. ‘Nor is there any need, for I shall remember all my life.’ And, although she was so mysterious, she was right.”
The remarkable aspect of A Game of Hide and Seek is that it is, undeniably, a love story, but there is little talk of love. There are a few “flashes of perception”, but mostly readers simply see the love that exists between Harriet and Vesey, such as it can be expressed under the circumstances.
Which, beyond that indescribable walk in the woods, is always confined somehow, whether inwardly or outwardly.
The everyday events and longings of a woman’s life: that’s the stuff of Elizabeth Taylor’s fiction. “What poetry there is in ordinary domestic life, the rhythm of a house” says Julia, and although one suspects a tongue in a cheek, there is some truth in it too, at least in the way that Elizabeth Taylor constructs the verses.