Friday, 4 July 2014

The Light Years by Elizabeth Jane Howard

This is the story of three generations of the Cazalet family who ordinarily spend their summers in Sussex. The novel covers the summers of 1938-9 when the whole country is anticipating the outbreak of World War Two. But, set amidst the tranquil countryside, for the family, their relatives and servants life goes on as normal and thoughts of war run alongside childhood games and picnics on the beach.

This is one of those books that has been sitting on my bookshelf gathering dust for years under the category of “I really want to read that one day.”. Well, “one day” finally arrived for this book and now I can only question why I left it on the shelf for such a long time as it is marvellous.

The first in a series based around the Cazalet family it is a little gem of a book. Gently and intelligently written it perfectly encapsulates the time period in which it is set. It is also a wonderful glimpse into a world that has been left behind and deals superbly with the pre-war class system at both ends of the spectrum.

Although, this focuses on life for the family who perfectly depict the upper middle class of the pre-war era we are also given significant insight into the world of the staff. I found Miss Milliment , who whilst only being a minor character, delightful and demonstrates how single women who needed to fend for themselves were treated at this time.

I loved all of the characters in this book but was grateful for the family tree which precedes the text as I did get a little confused about who was who at times. However, this does not detract from either the writing or the wonderful story telling in this novel.

I was actually really surprised to find that this book was first published in 1990 as the writing has a very authentic feel. Having said that some of the themes are addressed in a way that would not have been deemed appropriate during it’s contemporary period. For example, attitudes to sex, homosexuality and relationships would not have been written about with quite such frankness, and dare I say it, by a woman! I acknowledge that I am generalising here and that there are exceptions but on the whole a contemporary female author probably would not have written with such openness.

I adored this book and I would really encourage you to give this one a try if you have not already read it. Of course, the second book in this series is already on my ever lengthening wish list and I am already looking forward to reading it.

On a personal note, I am going to be away for the next couple of weeks visiting one of my lovely sons who now lives in Yorkshire. I often regret that my children have moved so far from home now that they are adults but every cloud has a silver lining as it means we are blessed with a plethora of free holidays all year. Yorkshire is such a beautiful part of the country and I am very excited to be going. Needless to say, I am packing plenty of reading material ………… and my knitting of course.

ISBN:  978 0330323154

Publisher: Pan

Price (based on today’s price at Amazon): £3.85

Total saving so far:  £302.56

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