‘The Fly-Paper’ by Elizabeth Taylor

‘The Fly-Paper’ was rejected by William Maxwell at the New Yorker and subsequently turned into an episode of Tales of the Unexpected; I didn’t know either of these things when I first read it.

Although all Elizabeth Taylor’s short stories are currently available as one huge tome, they are more easily enjoyed in the editions in which they were originally published: Hester Lilley (1954), The Blush (1958), A Dedicated Man (1965) and The Devastating Boys (1972). The latter is my favourite of the four because of the range of subject matter and because there isn’t a sentence in it, anywhere, that is anything other than flawless. Taylor was a genius of fancy prose but, unlike VN, she didn’t like to talk about it.

I read ‘The Fly-Paper’ aloud from beginning to end at a festival a few years ago and, steadily, it froze a room full of people into absolute shock, not because of the ‘unexpected’ denouement – it isn’t, particularly – but because of the horrible truth of what precedes it: the elegant apprehension of quotidian, human evil.

First published in The Devastating Boys, Chatto and Windus Ltd, 1972; Collected in Complete Short Stories, Virago Press, 2012

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s