The Light Years by Elizabeth Jane Howard

I’ve had Howard’s book, The Light Years on my list for quite some time. Recently, the Cazalet Chronicles have been popping up all over the place, including a fabulous article in the Winter 2016 Issue of Slightly Foxed. After all these coincidental prompts, I knew I needed to bump this up to one of my next reads.

After doing a little bit of research about the novel, many readers and reviewers have compared this to Downton Abbey and I do agree to an extent. Throughout the novel, one follows the story of multiple characters both upstairs and downstairs, with the main focus on the large Cazalet clan, whose lives and misadventures unfold through each of their perspectives in nicely packaged sections. With a large cast of characters, including several small children, the first part of the novel was a bit confusing. I found myself almost needing to jot down notes, to keep all of the characters and storylines straight. But, after a little flipping back and forth, I soon found myself completely engrossed in each of their stories.

The book is divided into three sections, between two summers, and two years – 1937 and 1938. Even though both years take place before the outbreak of war, there is an underlying tension, especially in the 1938 sections, that to me, alludes to the trials and horrors of the approaching war. During the first section, the stories of the family are quite idyllic with a warm summer glow that envelops the section, fresh love, days at the beach and a family life that we all long for. But something changes in the second section, LATE SUMMER 1938, and that gleam and glow that was apparent the summer before is tarnished – the children are older, and a little less innocent, cracks are starting to appear in relationships and that looming knowledge that war is just around the corner, and a changing world order, starts to affect the narrative.

I’ve always had a fascination with England during the two World Wars. So the setting and time of this novel was perfect in my opinion. I’ve also recently discovered one of my favorite types of fiction focus on the everyday lives of people, in particular the role of women in the household. This simple formula of focusing on a family that is bound together by love, tragedy, happiness, sadness, and ultimately the outbreak of war, is what makes this book in my opinion. Howard has taken a complex and diverse family and created identities and personalities as seen in a typical family during the 1930’s and in doing so, weaves a story that sweeps you up, even as a modern reader.

There are four more books in the Cazalet Chronicles, all follow the family up to the 1950’s. I’m anxious to see where the story goes, how the characters grow and develop during the years of WWII and the aftermath in the years to come.

Favorite Quotes:

The trouble about being a saint was that it didn’t seem to be very nice for them at the time, only afterwards, for other people, after they’d died. Working a miracle would be marvelous – being martyred would not. But supposing you could be a saint without being a martyr?

That’s what ordinary life is, isn’t it? Carrying on as usual.

My Rating: 4 Stars


Book Details:

Paperback: 432 pages
Publisher: Pan MacMillan (September 1, 2013)
Language: English

 9780330323154

Purchase Book: Book Depository

 

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