light-years

I love going to the library and finding new books (to me) that I’ve missed along the way. I also enjoy a series every now and again,  so was drawn to Howard’s Cazalet Chronicles, following the  Cazalet family through from pre-World War II and into the 1950s. Published in 1990, The Light Years is the first in this series of books and takes place in 1937 and 1938. The three Cazalet sons, Hugh, Edward and Rupert, take their wives and children down to Sussex each summer to spend time with their unmarried sister Rachel. Most of the novel takes place at Home Place, the family seat in the country, though we do dart back to London from time to time. From the outside, life looks idyllic, but underneath the surface…

Hugh, haunted by memories of battle in France, is terrified at the prospect of another war. Handsome, charming Edward, who escaped the war unscathed, is more concerned with matters close at hand, but his wife Villy, desperately bored after her life as a dancer, is unaware of his continuous infidelities. Rupert, the talented painter, finds that he cannot both paint and be married to his beautiful and demanding wife, Zoe.  And Rachel is so loyal to her family that she has no time to devote to Sid – the woman she feels so passionately about…

Did I enjoy the book? Well, I’ve just ordered the next book from the library so yes, more than I expected. It read a little like an adults Enid Blyton, in a good way. There is lots of tea drinking, potted shrimp, dinners at the club (for the men) and a small glass of sherry in the evening, but also there is a harder edge to this novel. There is a lot of ‘stiff upper lip’ going on as well, for example when Sybil, Rupert’s wife, gives birth to twins and the girl is stillborn (this isn’t really a spoiler since there is a family tree at the start of the book). There are also a few darker occurrences that I hope are picked up again throughout the series; a hint at sexual abuse and a more blatant rape that goes unspoken about, childhood fears and the trials of growing up, the fear of childbirth in an age where the dangers were still significant.

One of the drawbacks to having such a huge cast of characters is that sometimes I forgot who some of the minor characters were – in such upper middle class households there were a myriad of staff who kept cropping up and I could never remember quite who was a maid/cook/secretary/random family friend who hadn’t appeared for two hundred pages. This wasn’t a huge stumbling block though since all of the main storylines focus on the Cazalets. It does feel like saying goodbye to friends by the end and I look forward to meeting them again in the next book.

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