‘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