Tuesday, 1 October 2013
I can still remember my disappointment when I realised that Elizabeth Jane Howard had simply abandoned the Cazalet family in 1947 at the end of the fourth volume in her family saga ...
That was 18 years ago, which is a very long time to wait for the finale. I was planning to re-read the earlier books to remind myself of who's who and if I had, I'd have been in good company because somebody else has been limbering up, too.
Not a chance. I was too impatient to dive straight in, then spent last week in Cazalet total-immersion. Bliss, I opened the first page on the flight up to Scotland ...
And it was like re-acquainting myself with old friends. It is now 1956 and the Duchy, the family matriarch, is dying. The family must adapt to a post-war world and the Cazalet business empire is shaky. Villy is still bitter about her divorce from slimy Edward who is no longer inappropriately groping their beautiful daughter Louise but that undoubtedly explains why Louise is now the mistress of a wealthy married lover. (Having trouble keeping up? Gosh, I was glad I'd listened to the radio series.) Diana is a demanding bitch of a second wife. Polly and Clary have young families (EJH is brilliant at writing children). And poor old governess Miss Milliment has Alzheimer's.
I couldn't tell you why I love it so much. Occasionally, it's ludicrous .. . there's a completely daft incestuous romance that runs for a few pages until EJH apparently gets bored with it and lets it fizzle out. But I don't suppose 90-year-old authors get taken to task by their editors.
Actually, I do know why I love it so much. It's the wonderful detail, the descriptions of rooms and clothes and food ... I imagine that EJH can remember every meal she has ever eaten. There's a wonderfully aggressive dinner party when Diana is bullying her sister-in-law's half-Jewish lesbian lover with rich, indigestible food - crab soufflé, venison in wine and brandy, followed by crème brûlée. Oh dear, I was sighing over that, it sounds simply delicious to me.
It's a perfect autumn read, a perfect holiday read, perfect for reading with cocoa/malt whisky/soup, perfect for reading in the bath (at least it will be once it's in paperback). And although it says 'final volume' on the cover, EJH has been hinting that there might be another to come.
If you're new to the Cazalets, though, you really do need to start at the beginning.