04 Aug Becoming Liz Taylor by Elizabeth Delo
A poignant journey through grief and loneliness
I was very intrigued by the title of this book and jumped at the chance to be on the blogtour – and I’m so glad I did.
It’s a super story, beautifully told, and delivered far more than I expected.
We meet Val, a widow in her 70s, living in Weston-super-Mare. She’s never got over the loss of her baby son Duncan who died a cot death, and the subsequent tragic accident that took her husband’s life.
Instead she’s found solace in dressing up as Liz Taylor, whom her husband often compared her to. But it’s at the expense of the feelings of her older son Ralph, who grows up feeling increasingly alienated from his mother, and escapes Weston for London when he is 18.
Val steals a baby in its pram
At first it seemed this story was going to follow a familiar trajectory of an elderly woman finally coming to terms with life’s challenges, but in a shocking very early twist, Val becomes a fugitive when she steals a baby in his pram left unattended at a funfair, and goes on the run.
The narrative takes on her journey, both physical and metaphorical, to discover just what makes this lonely grieving woman tick as she increasingly loses her grip on reality.
In a parallel storyline we also learn Ralph’s story.
Rafe – as he has rechristened himself – is living a lonely and bitter existence in Brighton, having split from his long-term partner Jim. He blames Val for his woes, despite the fact he hasn’t even seen his mother for 30 years.
As their two stories merge, will Val finally get a grip on reality, realise that all the love she has to give might be better spent on her surviving son, and that she can’t call her husband back to life by continuing to dress as a filmstar, nor her infant son back by stealing another woman’s child?
Will Rafe ever accept Jim has moved on?
Both mother and son need to stop depending on past happiness to try to complete them. They need to find a way to move on, separately or together.
There’s pathos and humour in the story
This book has everything necessary to draw readers straight into the story. For all their flaws, both characters are highly engaging.
Val’s eccentricity and her crime are both real cries for help, and it keeps the reader’s sympathies firmly on her side, even though what she has done is heinous.
Rafe, too, is a sympathetic character. For all his resentments and jealousies, he just wants to be loved.
The prose is atmospheric, with fabulous descriptions of seaside towns, down-at-heel funfairs and even the terrifying motorways Val has to drive on. Poignant scenes as she dons her Liz Taylor persona are beautifully written, evoking both pathos and humour.
Subsidiary characters like Jim, Howard – an elderly man Val meets on her travels – and Sadie, her old friend and neighbour, spring to life from the pages, and even tragic little Duncan becomes his own wee person in his four short weeks of life.
Without giving away too much of the ending, it obviously can’t be too neat and tidy – Val is after all a kidnapper, no matter how well intentioned, and can’t remain a fugitive for ever.
But the story explores so many aspects of love, loss, grief and loneliness in a beautifully told narrative, that it will make you both laugh and cry as you come to the end.
In many ways, it defies genre-typing, but is perfect for fans of Elizabeth Is Missing by Emma Healey.
Becoming Liz Taylor is published by Allen & Unwin in hardback and ebook
About the Author
Elizabeth Delo trained as a teacher and has worked in schools in London, Birmingham, Paris and Somerset. After writing fiction in her spare time for many years, Elizabeth took a break from teaching to do a master’s degree in creative writing at Bath Spa University, graduating with Distinction. She runs creative writing classes and has worked as a freelance editor.
Becoming Liz Taylor is her debut novel.