Tuesday, 28 June 2011

The Light Years by Elizabeth Jane Howard

This is the first volume of The Cazalet Chronicles. I watched the tv series a few years ago and really loved it. Published in 1990 it is set in the years leading up to the Second World War. It is a sprawling family saga with lots of characters. The three Cazalet brothers Hugh, Edward and Rupert along with their wives and children spend the summer at the family home in Sussex. This is the home of their parents, known as the Brig and the Duchy, and their unmarried sister Rachel.
They are a wealthy family. They all have servants and their children have tutors and go to private schools. Hugh and Edward work in the family's timber importing business. Yet money seems to be an issue. Edward's wife Villy feels guilty about spending money on a new dress, but then buys three. This contrasts with the genuine poverty of Miss Milliment who is employed as a tutor to Hugh and Edward's daughters. Miss Milliment lives in one room in a lodging house and money is a constant worry for her. She is quite elderly and fears what will happen to her when she is too old to work.
War is a constant background to the story. Miss Milliement's fiance was killed in the Boer War and she still treasures his memory. Both Hugh and Edward fought in the First World War, Hugh still suffering the effects of the injuries he received. Then as the story moves on the threat of the Second World War comes closer and closer.
Primarily though this is a book about the Cazalet family. They are a close family and spend a lot of time together. But there are rifts. Rupert's second wife Zoe doesn't fit in. She is much younger than him, she resents her step-children (the feeling is reciprocated) and is prone to tantrums. Edward's wife Villy is dissatisfied with her life and is constantly searching for activities and hobbies to find fulfillment. The children's allegiances and friendships change as they grow older. This process is exacerbated by the introduction in the second half of the book of a new family, Villy's sister Jessica and her four children. Edward's daughter Louise is the oldest of the children and her close friendship with her cousin Polly fades as she has to face some very grown up issues. Jessica's son Christopher is very unhappy and has a dreadful relationship with his bullying father. Then he comes up against Edward's son Teddy, who is anxious to assert his authority.
I enjoyed this book very much. I got really involved with the characters and am eager to read the rest of the trilogy.


  1. I remember my mother reading these and really loving them. For some reason, though, Howard is not a writer I've ever got round to although I know her writing is very highly thought of. I shall have to try and do something about it.

  2. These books sound like something I would enjoy. I had not heard of them. I enjoy family sagas and historical fiction, especially of the time period you described. Thanks for this recommendation!

  3. I remember the programme and I had the book - but I cannot find it, so I think I might have given it away.

    One to look our for in the library or a charity shop perhaps.

  4. Thank you for reminding me of this book. I loved it, and I can warmly recommend the rest of the series.