Friday, January 10, 2014

Friday Reading Assignment: Slipstream

I'm so glad I discovered Elizabeth Jane Howard.  Besides the wonderful Cazalet Chronicles, I've read her first and second novels, The Beautiful Visit and The Long View and I look forward to reading her other novels including a surprise fifth novel in the Cazalet series, which was published in 2013 when she was 90.  She died a few days ago, as I was reading Slipstream, her memoir.

Elizabeth Jane Howard (known as Jane) came from a privileged British background, with nannies and servants and houses in London and the country.  I always figured that The Cazalet Chronicles was autobiographical, and it is, but not in the simplistic way that I imagined it to be.  Louise, Polly, and Clary each represent a different aspect of Jane Howard.  Clary is Jane the writer, Polly represents her creative and domestic side and Louise is the one whose life most closely parallels Howard's own.  The real Jane Howard had a philandering father and ex-ballerina mother.  She wanted to be an actress and was informally educated at home by a governess similar to Miss Millament.  She married Peter Scott, son of the antarctic explorer Robert Falcon Scott and his mother was a domineering mother-in-law.  They divorced, and much later she married Kingsley Amis.

If you do an image search for Elizabeth Jane Howard there are a gazillion pictures of her at glamorous parties with the beautiful people.  (She once met the Queen Mother, who glared at her and said, "Is that a boy?")  Slipstream is peopled with famous people of literature: Elizabeth Taylor, Cecil Day-Lewis, Cyril Connolly, Barbara Pym, Martin Amis as a boy, Iris Murdoch (a sad encounter with her in a church when she was demented with alzheimers), and many others.

Her writing life was like the fantasy life of most wannabe writers: a romantic, starving artist youth during World War II, an every-other-week job in a publishing house, typing away across the table from Kingsley Amis in a rented beach house in Spain, intermittent dips into show business to write for TV and movies; jaunts to St. Tropez when it was "still a fishing village."

Despite all that, Howard is never smug.  Writing was a struggle, and she was perpetually unsure of herself and easily tongue-tied.  She was embarrassed about her lack of formal education.  She had a difficult relationship with her parents, and later, with her own daughter, two miserable marriages before she met Kingsley Amis, and a habit of affairs with married men, including the husband of one of her best friends.

Even if you have never read Elizabeth Jane Howard's novels, I encourage you to read Slipstream.  A well-written memoir, even when it is about someone with whom you are unfamiliar, is a pleasure to read.


  1. I will read this--and thank you again for recommending her.

  2. This sounds juicy. I can definitely put it on my list.

  3. just about to finish my christmas book, Anjelic Huston's A Story Lately Told.... oh my!!

  4. thanks for sharing, will check it out! :)

  5. Happy to add her to my list.

  6. God, she looks gorgeous!! How elegant! I think I have an Elizabeth Howard novel somewhere, but I can't remember which one. I will look for Slipstream.