The fifth, and final, book in the Cazalet Chronicles. The title says it all – this is the end of an era and the beginning of something new. It’s a novel that I think has to be read as part of the series. If you came to this as a standalone book you’d be lost within pages. I gave up trying to differentiate between the vast array of children after less than fifty! As with the other books there is a handy family tree at the front to refer back to when you forget which child belongs to which parent (every other chapter, especially since they are always meeting up and you end up with multiple children milling about the page).
This book begins in 1956, a gap of nine years after Casting Off. This delay allows the ‘adults’ to be now bordering on old age, the ‘children’ to be married off with their own offspring, and for new children (of which there are many and even two sets of twins) to be taking the place that their parents occupied in The Light Years. The Duchy, that grand Cazalet matriarch, dies in the first chapter, tended to by her beloved daughter Rachel. Her passing marks the beginning of a period of change for the whole family, presented over the next two and a half years.
I had many questions entering this novel: would Rachel finally stop hiding her love for Sid; would Edward have made a huge mistake by divorcing Villy and marrying Diana?; will Clary and Archie make a go of it; will Louise regret leaving her son with her vile ex-husband? Most of these are answered fairly quickly. Sid and Rachel do sort of stop hiding their love for one another, in a way that suits the times. The family accept that they are in love, at least. Villy and Edward are both regretting the past. Louise’s son is mentioned once in passing which did shine a new light on her character. None of the rest of the family seemed to pass judgment on his absence, though I did find it interesting that another family member criticised Diana for not seeming to mind that her older sons preferred to spend time with their grandparents than with her. Surely Louise’s actions were far worse…
On the other hand, Louise has always been quite selfish and superficial, so it wasn’t a stretch to imagine her never giving her son another thought. What annoyed me more was the Clary and Archie storyline. They are married by now, with two children, scraping a living through Archie’s art and teaching. Archie was always presented as a kind man, once so in love with Rachel, who of course could never love him back, that he had to avoid the Cazalets for a period. Although there must be a twenty year age gap, it wasn’t so odd that he and Clary fell in love since they had spent so much time together when Clary’s father went missing during the war. However, their story takes a dramatic turn when Archie does something that seems so out of character that I didn’t quite believe it. There is also a very strange incest storyline with another two characters that seemed unnecessary.
Unfortunately, this is my least favourite of the series. There are just too many characters to follow around, where in previous books we follow a limited number closely. Some chapters are only a page long, just time to follow a brief conversation that isn’t always pertinent to the plot. There is also an attempt to throw more sex in, some of which works, some of which made me smile. There is lots of cupping of breasts, people getting naked, Simon’s first love affair with a man. Villy realises that Edward left her because she didn’t enjoy sex; Edward realises he married Diana because she did enjoy sex but is otherwise a terrible human being and he should have stayed with Villy. The strength of the novel is that this definitely feels like the ending of something. Characters die, the Cazalet’s firm is going through a difficult time, the future of Home Place is in doubt now that there is only Rachel living there. The final section, where the family come home for Christmas, made up for the flaws of what came before. It was a fitting end to a fantastic series.