The Light Years, by Elizabeth Jane Howard

Second paragraph of third chapter (and these are long chapters):

He was back again, standing in the bedroom doorway, waiting with exaggerated patience for her to shut her suitcase. He always insisted upon loading the car for her, which was a sort of coals-of-fire kindness. As a matter of fact, even with the roof rack it took a bit of doing for five of them, but he made a regimented meal of it – insisting upon everybody’s luggage being stacked on the pavement beside the car before he would begin.

This was slightly an impulse purchase for Anne’s birthday when I saw it in the local bookshop. I am sorry to say that all I knew about the writer was that she had been married to Kingsley Amis; I guess I was vaguely aware that she was a writer in her won right, but I had not realised that she was so good. (I was also unaware that her first brief marriage was to the naturalist Peter Scott.)

It is the first book in a series about the Cazalets, a wealthy English family in the international timber trade (like Howard’s own). This one is set just before the second world war, and introduces us to the Cazalet family: three brothers and a sister, the women who are their lovers, their children and their parents, and a couple of other family connections as well. Everyone gets a couple of sections to themselves, the tight-third narrative moving from person to person to highlight the differences and similarities in perspective between the various relatives. The shadow of the first war lies heavily on all of them as they try and avoid thinking about the next one.

It’s a leisurely opening for an epic, and you couldn’t really call it a novel because the story does not end at the end of the book. There are a couple of pretty dark moments as well, setting up more narrative threads for future volumes. I enjoyed it more than I thought I would. You can get it here.

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