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Love Liz, But Not This Book
on June 30, 2011
First things first: I think Elizabeth Taylor was a wonderful woman. My dislike of this book has nothing to do with her or her life. I continue to be inspired by her ability to thrive, no matter the odds. What I'm not inspired by is this book. To me, Walker's writing is melodramatic and repetitive. In the first third of the book, I felt he tried too hard to shoehorn her mother's experiences and influences into Liz's life as guiding principles. These influences are definitely worth mentioning; however, these chapters read as if Walker was proving a thesis, not chronicling the upbringing of one of the world's most intriguing women.
The whole book feels unbalanced, as if Walker is only really interested in Liz's life through the making of Cleopatra. He's very detailed about her experiences as a child, in early films, through her reaction to Mike Todd's tragic death. After that point, the coverage gets spotty. I knew a little about Elizabeth Taylor's life before reading this book, and that little bit told me that she and Richard Burton had an electrifying love affair that changed both of them forever. In this book, Walker gives Burton short shrift. I got the feeling Walker dislikes Burton. He duly notes how Burton and Liz got together, their movies made together, their travels together, and the circumstances leading up to their marriages and divorces. But it seems like some fundamental acceptance of their affair was missing, as if Walker never understood why they stayed together for so long or what Liz saw in him.
For example, Walker printed in full several angry letters Liz's movie studio received when viewers found out about her affair with Burton. He also mentions numerous gushing magazine interviews Liz and Burton gave about each other, describing their feelings for each other--yet he does not quote more than a line from any of them. To me, these interviews are far more relevant to understanding Elizabeth than angry letters written by people who didn't even know her. When Burton wrote a book ("no, hardly that, a short story, a mere twenty-four pages including pictures," writes Walker) about Elizabeth, Walker dismisses it: "It became the burden that many a journalist interviewing him had to bear--hearing him laud Elizabeth to the skies, but in a way that implied how high his own stock stood as a lover" (283). One of the great love stories of the century, dismissed.
Burton notwithstanding, there are more problems at the end of the book. My edition is a revised edition, a 1997 update to the original, published in 1990. (Amazon sells the original 1990 edition, as far as I can tell, so if you do buy this version, you won't have this issue.) In any case, in the 1997 edition, you get two more chapters detailing the Fortensky marriage, with a word-for-word repeat of the three concluding pages of the 1990 edition. Sloppy work by the publisher, revealing how little care was taken with the book in the first place.
Overall, this book was useful for giving me more information about Elizabeth and her life. Unfortunately, I felt it was biased and spotty in terms of coverage. I'm looking forward to reading other bios of Liz for a more rounded picture of this remarkable woman's life.