Because did I say how much I enjoyed this second read twenty or so years on from my first read?
This time I read on my Kindle and must confess that there aren't many books I would read in digital format out of preference to the book in my hand, but somehow The Light Years was perfect road trip reading back in September, and especially for those often sleepless nights in beds that are nothing like as soft and welcoming as your own. Bookhound can fall asleep on a clothes line within about ninety seconds, I can't, making my Kindle Paperwhite essential kit when travelling and what a godsend it was when I was wilderness camping in New Zealand. Let me tell you there is nothing quite so disconcerting as a possum snuffling around your tent or a Kea trying to peck its way in.
My first move however was a Cazalet family tree drawn in my notebook because it does take a while to unravel the characters and their connections, but I soon had brothers Hugh, Edward and Rupert Cazalet and their respective wives Sybil, Viola (Villy) and Zoe and their voices sorted out, along with a bevvy of children. Seven cousins all born between 1923 and 1930 and then pre-war late-comer William in 1937.
There will be ramifications and revelations at some of the big family gatherings at Home Place, home of parents Duchy and the Brig and unmarried Cazalet sister Rachel; the house so cleverly described by Elizabeth Jane Howard that it seems almost possible to draw it. And there will be nuances and alliances and shifting loyalties and friendships especially between the children. This is a vast yet close-knit family with wives woven in and having to find a foothold, and with it comes a sense of self sufficiency and a need for no other but themselves. The detail, especially about the seemingly minor trials and tribulations, suggests that this is a world Elizabeth Jane Howard knew well.
The legacy of World War One is writ large, both physically and emotionally and the travails of the wider world are cleverly reflected in the family and their staff, with a disparity of wealth and gender-based expectations that mirror much of that recounted in Terms & Conditions, Ysenda Maxtone Graham's book on life in girls' boarding schools. The girls are invariably home-educated and sent off to cookery school while the boys are sent away to boarding school.
Subsidiary plots develop among the ancillary staff...the cook and the chauffeur, Miss Milliment the impoverished governess. And then there is one brother and his mistress and some very inappropriate behaviour besides (no spoilers) which bodes ominously for the future...
I loved all the product placement too..
Pond's Cold Cream...what exactly was it for?
We all used it, even in the 1960s but I'm not sure why or how.
And 'tins of talc'....
Goodness, how special was that Christmas gift box of a tin of talc and some bath cubes, usually Hyacinth or Lily of the Valley. I can now picture most vividly my mum's tin of talc that sat in the bathroom for what seemed like years. Dust of the Stars in its tall, oval shaped blue starry tin, with the rust creeping around the base and the contents which never seemed to run out.
Marking Time, the second book in the series begins a year later. Poland has been invaded and war seems inevitable, everyone is seated around the radio on September 3rd 1939 awaiting Chamberlain's speech. I am about a quarter through and loving it for the way I can pick it up whenever, know immediately where I am and who is talking, and proceed.
Apparently we have writer Martin Amis, Elizabeth Jane Howard's stepson from her marriage to Kingsley Amis, to thank for this series. Torn between doing a re-write of Sense and Sensibility or a family saga that would span the war years, it was Martin Amis who suggested the latter as a better option. Of the books themselves Elizabeth Jane Howard said this in her excellent autobiography Slipstream...
"When people wrote about that time, it was largely in terms of the battles fought; family life was merely a background. I thought it would be interesting to do it the other way round. England had changed so much during the war, but this hadn't been much written about."
And for those who may not have discovered the Cazalets, both these books, The Light Years and Marking Time are just 99p on Kindle at the moment. Over 1000 pages of hot-water bottle reading joy awaits, to say nothing of a further three books, and if you are in the right reading mood I think, like me, you might be hooked.