Riding at the Gates of Sixty: A Review

I wrote this book in 1983, when I was twenty-five – and published it two years ago, having edited it extensively. Now, riding hard at the gates of sixty myself, I shall re-read it.

The following review, one of five (all 5*), left me speechless with emotion:

There are few words which can adequately describe this wonderfully sculpted volume.

Riding at the Gates of Sixty will surely become essential readng for those wishing to half-way approach, and understand, the force of nature that was Virginia Woolf. Taylor has most assuredly risen to the task set by her heroine, “If I were to ask my friends, and loved ones, to write about me, they would be unlikely to stumble upon this tremulous self, so fleetingly exposed”. The voices and inner worlds of Leonard, Vanessa and Virginia are so perfectly brought to life, in such glorious detail, that there can be little doubt that Taylor belongs firmly in that inner circle at Bloomsbury.

The novel, though it is surely much more, begins with Leonard. Taylor manages to paint a touching picture of his undoubted love for Virginia without falling into mawkish sentimentality. His fear in those uncertain days following her disappearance, and the portrait of his grief on her discovery, is so incredibly well conceived and executed, that the reader feels the weight of that last door which “all doors down through the years become…”

Virginia picks up, weaving early childhood memories, both loving and traumatic, onto a thread which reveals the core of herself in all its rawness, and also her depth of feeling for Leonard, “…half of my wholeness”. The next few chapters move inexorably towards a most beautifully rendered description of her own suicide; if such a thing exists, Taylor has assuredly found it.

The text then takes us back, through both Leonard and Virginia’s eyes, to cover the entirety of their relationship; with each other and the Bloomsbury group as a whole. The imagined conversations are sublime; in turn touching, revealing and outright laugh out loud. The writing process, the inner turmoil, the minutiae of a life lived at full speed is laid out in all its glory.

It is only when Vanessa Bell, Virginia’s elder sister, has her turn that the reader is left a weeping mess. (Don’t even dare to read that last chapter first! You know who you are!!)

Other than a couple of stumbles in Leonard’s section, throughout the novel, Taylor’s prose remains tight, moving everything along at a spanking pace (I defy any reader to not finish this in one sitting!). Every sentence is a joy to unravel, every perfectly turned phrase a nugget of wonder. Never moving into outright pathos, the world crafted by Taylor is at once beguiling, consistent, believable, and, quite simply, beautiful.

Read it! You can’t possibly be disappointed.


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