This is seriously cool.
I took my camera out at lunch today to try to capture some of the beauty of our sudden autumn.
And now . . . to the Brig and the Duchy, Hugh, Edward, Rupert, and Rachel, and their many wives and lovers and children and friends and extended family.
Yes, I’m talking about the Cazelets, whose story is told in the 5-volume series of novels by Elizabeth Jane Howard.
Why Howard is not better known and appreciated, I have no idea. She had a crazy and tumultuous life, about which I know plenty, having read her memoir (and those of her various husbands), but I am now looking forward to reading her biography.
I nominate these novels as among the best written in English in the 20th century. Yes, Proust and Faulkner included. Certainly among the very top of anything set against the backdrop of the Second World War.
The story is complex, and you need the family tree to keep everyone straight at the beginning. But soon you come to know them.
Told from many perspectives and darting back and forth in time, but not too much. I cared about every single one of the characters, even if I didn’t like them much, and yes, I’m looking at you, Edward.
War turns out to be mainly boring! But London and parties beckon, and there is still so much work to do and so many mouths to feed, in a grand country house that is probably not so grand anymore. Memories, and the aftermath, of the First World War, are still extremely vivid, and one can feel the horror of the prospect of all that all over again.
And oh, the entanglements! Wives and mistresses and all the wrong men to fall in love with. Unrequited love and disasters in threesomes and the whole gamut of sexuality and love and experience and loss, loss, loss.
All I can do is urge you to order the entire 5-volume set, and devour it as soon as possible. I will not soon forget the Cazelets. I am sorry I always thought, for no reason whatever, that the books were set in the Middle Ages, and no, I have no plans to try to see the television series made from it. I like to keep them in my imagination.
How on earth did Howard do it? I have no idea. I cannot fathom trying to unpick the structure.
Read what another writer I admire, Hilary Mantel, has to say about Howard here.
An astonishing achievement. My books of the year.