"Just the jam and the poetry?" he said into my ear. I didn't know who he was. He approached me in the stacks as I browsed. He spoke BBC english and wore a slightly preening twisted smile. In my string bag, over my shoulder, I had a jar of cherry jam and a paperback John Donne.
- Brother of the More Famous Jack, Barbara Trapido
Monday, 13 February 2012
The Cazalet Chronicles- Elizabeth Jane Howard
The Cazalet Chronicles are four books by Elizabeth Jane Howard that tell the story of the Cazalet family from 1937 to 1947. I read all four books back to back only putting one down to pick another up. Reading them this way was wonderful, moving, terrible. The family make up a sprawling cast of characters, from the Brig and the Duchy to their children, their children's spouses,their grandchildren and their spouses, cousins, friends, lovers. From characters in their 80s to newborn babies, all are accounted for, and for great swathes of the books all are present under one roof. When not at Home Place, the idyllic family home in Sussex, each character still occupies space in the narrative. The books move from person to person, voice to voice in a way that many avoid. The result is a kind of clamouring, a demand for attention and over the course of the four books you gain insight into the motivations, the desires, the inner life of each character. It is an exhilarating, sometimes exhausting way to read. What I found particularly fascinating about these novels was that almost all of the male characters are too old or too young to go into active service. There is no space made in the books for descriptions of war, but it permeates every page. This is the story of war at home, of everything that was terrible and frightening, and of how people carried on living anyway. How children and teenagers grew up barely remembering a world in which they weren't living through a war, how everything was not a constant state of action and panic, but - and in its own way awful to read about- how inert things could be, how mundane rations and air raid alarms become when you don't remember life without them. In large part the novels focus on the three young girls, Louise, Polly, and Clary, who become teenagers, young women, wives and mothers during this strange, standstill time. The transition to adulthood is brilliantly explored, and it was so interesting to read about in this context- everything the same but completely different. All four books are beautifully written, this is a real family saga that you can throw yourself into- each character so fully imagined that now I feel when I remember the books that I am remembering people I know, places I've been.I am only sad that there aren't more of them- I'm finding it hard to say goodbye to the Cazalets.