1 September 2021 Susannah

The Cazalet Chronicles

The Cazalet Chronicles by Elizabeth Jane Howard

Why have I never come across the novels of Elizabeth Jane Howard before? Some kind person recommended her Cazalet Chronicles to me, so I started with an audio version of the first book in the series, which starts in 1937 and covers a decade. The Light Years is beautifully read by Jill Balcon, and I just loved it. I then read the second book, Marking Time, and am now well into the third book, Confusion.

The series traces the fortunes of an upper-middle class family in England, focussing particularly on the women (servants, wives, unmarried daughters, elderly women). The books provide fabulous social history, and the prose is glorious. Not a great deal happens, which shows that dramatic plot is not vital to a novel, but you just grow absorbed in the minutiae of the characters’ lives and personalities, and you can picture them all so clearly as you read.

Elizabeth Jane Howard’s private life was a turbulent one. She was briefly an actor, then married naturalist Peter Scott, gave birth to a daughter during an air raid, had a very short marriage with another writer, and then became the second wife of Kingsley Amis. She was an inspiring stepmother to his children (and it was Martin Amis who gave her the idea for the Cazalet books), but invariably found that her husband’s writing was centre stage, while hers had to be fitted around domestic tasks. She died in 2014, at the age of 90. Fortunately, she was a prolific writer, so I have many hours of listening pleasure ahead of me.

The first two novels in the series were filmed in 2001 as The Cazalets, with an excellent cast including Hugh Bonneville, Lesley Manville and Anna Chancellor. It was in 6 episodes and was produced by the BBC. I managed to totally miss that as well, so will soon be seeking out the DVD or trying to find where it can be watched on a streaming service.

Hilary Mantel has stated that Elizabeth Jane Howard is an author everybody MUST read. I am happy to obey her command!

Send me a message now and I’ll get straight back to you.

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Featured image credit- The Cazalet Chronicles by Elizabeth Jane Howard, from https://www.goodreads.com/ and https://twitter.com/

Comments (24)

  1. Carole

    Loved all Mary Jane Howard’s books. While on British nostalgia, also loved Mary Wesley and R.F.Delderfield.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      I have also read all of Mary Wesley, and I adored Delderfield’s ‘To Serve Them all my Days’.

  2. Inese Tenisons

    I love Elizabeth Jane Howard and her work. I watched the Cazelet series when it first aired on television and would highly recommend it.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      I am absolutely loving the TV series, and know that when I finish the books I will feel bereft. I have got to know and love the characters so much.

      • Andrea

        The Cazalet Chronicles are based on EJH’s real life family. If you read her autobiography Slipstream and also the Artemis Cooper book A Dangerous Liaison, you will quickly see whole episodes from the Chronicles in these two excellent books. For instance Louise, Polly and Clary are an amalgam of EJH herself. Michael Hadley and his creepy mother K are based on her real like husband Peter Scott and his mother. Her parents are Edward and Viola in the book and so on. It’s quite fascinating. Home Place was a real house. Also, you don’t have to feel bereft when you finish reading them, that’s the beauty of having them, the characters are always there for you, living their lives between the pages, you just have to open them up and enjoy again.

        • Susannah Fullerton

          I recently purchased a biography of Elizabeth Jane Howard and am looking forward to reading it as I had realised that much of the content of the Cazalets was autobiographical. I have jsut introduced a good friend to the series and she is loving it. Yes, good books always stay with you and are there for rereading when needed.

  3. Janne Malfroy

    Thank you for your newsletter. I have read my Georgette Heyer books so many times in the last 12 months and have recently been re-reading old childhood books. To find a possible new series of books is exciting. I look forward to starting on the Jane Howard ones.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      Isn’t Heyer a comforting author in times of stress! Have you booked for the Heyer on-line event on 19 Sept?
      I am so loving the Cazalet books – a real delight!

  4. Helen Tomlinson

    Enjoyed all the books and loved the television series from about twenty years ago. Unfortunately, it was cancelled early because, at the time, the cricket had to be televised or some such reason (can’t quite remember). It starred the talented Lesley Manville who was the lead actor in the recent ‘Mum’ series on ABC television on Friday nights after Vera. There are some episodes from the Cazalet television series on You Tube.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      I am really looking forward to watching the series and have it on DVD. I have just so enjoyed the books, so it’s nice to know there are fellow Cazalet fans out there!

  5. Heather Grant

    I am surprised Susannah, that you haven’t read Elizabeth Jane Howard. I’ve read a few of her novels but I did enjoy reading all the Cazalet series. However, I heard recently that she wrote a 5th book in the series so I have to get my hands on that one!! I think our local Library has it on their shelves. Cannot wait until they eventually open – whenever!!!

    • Susannah Fullerton

      Yes, I am also surprised that I’ve gone so long without finding these delightful novels. Yes, there is a 5th book which came out much much later, but sadly it is not read on audible by the same superb reader. However, I will of course get it. I’m now on the 4th book.

  6. Carol Hampson

    I too have long loved these books. I remember a TV series in England, probably in the 70’s, so I must catch up with the more recent series.

  7. Nancy

    I first watched the series on ABC I think and loved it. I then started on the books and loved them. There are 2 more books, Slipstream, Howard’s autobiography published in 2002 and All Change, published in 2013. The latter is set in the 1950’s. I just love all these books and am now to start all over again. I have plenty of time in lockdown especially as I am recovering from a fractured vertebrae.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      I don’t know how I went so long without even hearing about this fabulous series. Yes, I can well imagine that they will stand up to rereading. I will try her autobiography once I have finished the series.

  8. Hello Susannah, a great friend of mine recommended the Cazalets years ago – she also put me onto your newsletter! – but I’ve only this year got around to them and I’m up to The Light Years as we speak! EJH’s books are utterly fabulous reads.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      I’m also finished with Book 3, on audio and so superbly read by Jill Balcon. I know I will feel bereft when I’ve finished the series, but will then move on to try some of her other books.

  9. Margy Syrett

    I adore these books and have read the series twice, having them recommended to me by my darling mother-in-law in the 1990s. I was living in London and my new in-laws lived in the south east of England, where the books are set. So glad you’ve found them.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      Perhaps it was you who recommended them to me? I know someone did and I can’t remember who. If it was you, then a big THANKS! Have you seen the TV adaptation? I have not watched it yet, but am hoping it is faithful. If you haven’t, you are welcome to borrow the DVD once I’ve seen it.

      • Joanna Taylor

        I have always loved her writing, she described an era gone by. She’s a fine and often underestimated writer and I have found the Cazelet series a go-to read in any times of stress. Just right for these times. But, don’t underestimate her, she was a great writer.

        • Susannah Fullerton

          I totally agree and have been wondering why she is so little heard of and so underestimated. I am so loving the hsitorical detail in the books, her perception into characters and the way she shows the young women growing and changing. I am dreading coming to an end of the series.

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