Hands across the Tea-shop Table

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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. They could not run fast across those uneven fields; nor did they wish to, since to find the hiding children was to lose their time together, to run faster was to run away from one another. The jog-trot was a game devised from shyness and uncertainty. Neither dared to assume that the other wished to pause and inexperience barred them both from testing this.

I first read A Game of Hide and Seek in my teens, at about the same age as Harriet and Vesey, running through the buttercup field in those opening lines, and I loved it so much that it hurt. For years I could hardly look at the dust jacket on the Book Club edition of 1951, given to my mother by her favourite niece, without an ache of the sadness and longing which Elizabeth Taylor so powerfully evokes in the story of two people who have always loved one another, but who will never be together.

I read it again in my thirties and still fell under its spell. One might despise Vesey, as other characters do, for his strangeness – his very name; his unappetizing white skin, gnat-bitten on those summer evenings; his casual rudeness and cruelties, both to the family with whom he stays in school holidays and to Harriet, who loves him so – and yet, like Harriet, I found him mesmerizing.

With the publication in 2009 of Nicola Beauman’s excellent biography, The Other Elizabeth Taylor, I read the novel again, and this time was disenchanted. It felt stiff, contrived, full of set pieces. But this year, in Philip Hensher’s Penguin collection of British short stories, I came upon Taylor’s gloriously sharp and funny ‘In and Out the Houses’, in which she portrays the vicissitudes of village life through the activities of a clev

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About the contributor

Sue Gee’s latest novel, Trio, features a group of young musicians in the 1930s, and is undeniably romantic.

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