Tuesday, January 26, 2016

All Change by Elizabeth Jane Howard

Several times, I've written about Elizabeth Jane Howard's novels, particularly her wonderful Cazalet series.  The first four books, about a British extended family during the World War II years were published in the 1990s.  Howard's final installment in the series, All Change, came out in late 2013, shortly before her death at age 90.


Of course I was ecstatic to learn of a fifth Cazalet novel, and yet it took me two years to get around to reading it.  Even after I'd finally procured a copy, I let it sit on my nightstand for weeks, reading everything else on my short list first and feeling curiously reluctant to read this book that I'd longed for.

I realized that I was actually afraid to read it; afraid that it wouldn't be as good as the first four books in the series and afraid that I'd end up grieving that Elizabeth Jane Howard had lost her writing skill at the end of her life.  This fear was bolstered by a bad customer review on amazon which claimed that All Change was a disappointment, that there was little new material, and was just a re-hashing of the original books.

Finally, shortly before Christmas, I started to read it and after the first few pages I realized that all my fears were groundless.  All Change is just as satisfying and wonderful as the rest of the Cazalet series. Whoever wrote the amazon review must be a real curmudgeon.

It's 1956, or roughly eleven years since the end of Casting Off, the previous book in the series.  The story opens with the death of the family matriarch.  Clary, Polly, and Louise are in their early thirties.  Clary and Polly are married with children and Louise is a fashion model, having an affair with a married man.  Rachel, while grieving the loss of her mother, is now finally free to openly live with her longtime female partner, Sid.  Edward is somewhat estranged from the family, due to his marriage to the poisonous Diana.  Hugh, also remarried to a widow with twin sons, struggles to carry on the family business, and Rupert and Zoe live in a fantastic-sounding old house with their children. We also get to see Villy and even the much-beloved governess, Miss Millament, is featured for a bit. Nearly all the characters from the first parts of the series get at least a mention and now there are several new characters, Polly, Clary, and Zoe's children.  Elizabeth Jane Howard has a delightful, unsentimental way of portraying children and she doesn't flinch from showing the nastier aspects of some children's characters, without making this behavior seem like a precursor to being a sociopath.

So there's lots of new material in this new book, and at the end, the Cazalets are at another crossroads in their story.  Some lose ends are tied up, but there's a lot that isn't resolved.  I wonder if EJH had considered writing a sixth book?  At any rate, All Change turned out to be the sort of book you can't wait to get back to at the end of a long day at work, and it was also a good Christmastime book, as there are several really good Christmas sections.

I know that many of the books I write about here don't have much appeal, but I can't imagine anyone not loving this series.  If you haven't read it yet, I highly recommend adding it to your list.

12 comments:

  1. They do sound lovely and I do need to add them to my list.

    You might enjoy "Letters of a Woman Homesteader" by Elinore Pruitt Stewart. I just finished it and very much enjoyed it.

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    1. Thanks for the recommendation. The title sounds interesting!

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  2. I just ordered Casting Off and I am tickled that it's not the LAST one in this series! Thank you for recommending it to me!

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  3. There is a BBC dramatization of these novels. Is it any good?

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    1. Yes! It's very good. Unfortunately, it leaves you feeling unsatisfied, because it only covers the beginning of the series. I think there were plans to film a second series that fell through.

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  4. I've wanted to read these novels for years! Maybe I'll finally get started in 2016...

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  5. I am adding this author to my (rather lengthy) list of books I would like to read. As always, I appreciate your writing so cogently about the books you read.

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  6. You probably would like to see this article Hilary Mantel wrote in today's Guardian:
    http://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/jan/30/hilary-mantel-elizabeth-jane-howard-novelist

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    1. Thanks! That was interesting. I read The Long View a long time ago and I can't remember much about it. I should reread it.

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  7. Just ordered the whole series thanks to this post! I've been at a bit of a loss reading wise lately and finding something to get totally immersed in would be such a treat:-)

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    1. That's great! I'm sure you will enjoy them. These books have really been among my favorites.

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