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.