Tuesday, January 14, 2014

The Light Years by Elizabeth Jane Howard


My first book for a challenge completed!

Like many of the books on my TBR Challenge lists, this is a book makes me kick myself for ignoring for so very long.  Several years ago I watched The Cazalets, the BBC miniseries adaptation, and just loved it.  Then, a couple of years ago I found the first book in the series on the donation cart in the lobby of one of the library's branches; a couple of years later I found the sequel (this particular branch must have kindred spirits who donate books; I've found several beautiful editions of Angela Thirkell novels, Viragos, and some books by Zola.  I wonder who could have donated them!)

Anyway, this was another book that had been woefully ignored, but it was the book I wanted to read most from my 2014 TBR Pile Challenge.  I snatched it up even before I started the book for my new book group and began to devour it.  However, there was almost a bookish disaster.  Last week, as I was all involved in the story, about 120 pages in, I turned the page and realized that there had been a printing error -- about 30 pages had been repeated, and instead of adding extra pages, about 30 pages of the story were missing from my edition.  The horror!!

Naturally, I rushed to the online library catalog to see if another copy was readily available.  Well, wouldn't you know it, there is exactly ONE copy of this book in my entire library system (which numbers more than 2 MILLION items) and it was on hold -- in fact, there are currently four people waiting for this book.  Sadly, the author, Elizabeth Jane Howard, passed away recently, and like-minded readers must have decided to put the book on hold; it's the only explanation I can imagine.

And of course there wasn't a copy to be found at any of the bookstores in town!!  Disaster was averted, however, when I checked WorldCat, the online catalog that searches every library in America -- a nearby suburb had a copy and it was checked in.  So Saturday morning I drove 17 miles to the town of Garden Ridge, TX (population 3,503), found the library, and sat in a comfy chair and read those missing 30 pages.  And then I drove home and finished the entire book before the weekend was out.



But back to the book! The Light Years is the the first in the Cazalet Chronicles, the story of a large extended family living in suburban London, beginning in the late 1930s as the threat of WWII is looming.  The patriarch, nicknamed "The Brig," is the head of the family business, which is some kind of upscale lumber company.  His two oldest sons, Hugh and Edward, work for him; both are in their late 30s and are veterans of The Great War; Edward was gassed but survived, and Hugh lost his left hand.  Each of them is married with several children, and there are two other grown children -- Rachel, the spinster who takes care of her parents and does charity work; Rupert, the youngest, is married to his second wife, the young and beautiful, but self-centered Zoe (his first wife died in childbirth so Zoe has two stepchildren).  Rupert is working as an art master in a school but his family is pushing him to join the family business.

Much of the action takes place at Home Place, the rambling old country estate in Surrey bought by the Brig, and presided over by his regal wife, nicknamed The Duchy (Duchess).   The family spend holidays and weekends there, though the Brig commutes back and forth to London, and the action shifts back and forth between the characters and locations in London and the countryside.  Basically, the book is a portrait of the various family members of an upper-middle class clan just before the War.

What's great about the book is how well Elizabeth Jane Howard captured all the different characters -- they're all so distinct, I felt like they were real people and couldn't wait to find out what happened to them.  Just like all families, they're a little dysfunctional -- people have secrets, children are growing up, and of course there is the imminent threat of the war.  I wouldn't call it great literature, but it's really addictive.  It feels so realistic, just like I was a fly on the wall watching these people, and I've always loved the period between the wars, and reading about WWII from the home front perspective.  If you're a Downton Abbey fan, I would highly recommend the TV miniseries when you're going through DA withdrawal in a couple of months.  There's not so much about the aristocracy, but it's a really interesting period drama.  The miniseries covers the first two in the series, but there's so much in the books, I'm sure the filmmakers had to leave a lot out.

I've already started the second book in the series, Marking Time, but then I'll have to wait for the third volume until April, after the end of the Triple Dog Dare.  The fifth book in the series, All Change, was actually published last year, but it won't come out here in the U.S. until April anyway.  Something to look forward to after the end of the Triple Dog Dare!

Bloggers, how is your 2014 reading coming along?  Any great reads to start the new year?

15 comments:

  1. That happened to me last year with a novel I was reading but I was only about 30 pages into the story so I just put it down, and decided I'd deal with it later. Later has yet to arrive. At least you have a happy ending and found an edition with the correct pages!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, I was so relieved when I drove out there and it was the first hardcover edition, which was correctly numbered. I guess I could have skipped those 30 pages but it wouldn't have been the same!

      Delete
  2. I must have seen the TV series but I don't remember there being one! After reading this, I just requested it at the library .... I have the audiobook of the new Cazalet book but watching the DVD would be a good refresher before I listen to it. I know I lliked the books but I don't really remember the characters etc. :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'd forgotten most of it too, I watched it about 6 or 7 years ago. I only remembered that the young second wife, Zoe, was played by the cute girl from Gavin and Stacey, which I loved. And Hugh Bonneville (Lord Grantham from Downton Abbey) played the oldest son (also named Hugh). I did really like it though.

      Delete
  3. Oh, you are in for such a treat! I devoured each novel as it was published, and have re-read them all. Enjoy!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I loved the first two and I hope I can wait until April to read the third volume -- I've challenged myself to read only books off my own shelves until then. It's only been two weeks and it's pretty hard! The library has an audiobook of the third volume so maybe I'll listen to it when it's time.

      Delete
  4. I love that you drove to another town to read those missing 30 pages! I don't know if I would have had the dedication to do that.
    I am currently reading this novel and am about 100 pages in. Like your fellow library patrons I decided I wanted to read it after hearing about the author's death; luckily, I had my own copy! I really love reading about all of the little domestic details, especially how food was prepared and the rituals of bedtime and teatime. Great stuff.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Well, it really wasn't very far; luckily it was on my side of town. My library won't do ILL if they own the book, even if there's a long waiting list, and buying a copy would have taken about five days. It was only about a 20 minute drive each way. I loved both books, there's so much insight into the war and what life in that time period was like.

      Delete
  5. That happened to me in the OUP edition of Dr.Thorne that I was reading last year; about 20 pages were missing about 3/4th of the way through! Not torn out or anything, obviously a misprint. I went on line to check if my library had a copy but then I realized I could probably find the pages on Project Gutenberg, which I did. Whew!

    My first two reads of 2014 were disappointing, but my third book was Miss Mapp by E.F. Benson and that cheered me right up reading a hilarious account of rather despicable people. I read the first book in the series, Queen Lucia, last year and I have the other four on my shelves. I wasn’t planning on doing any of the optional categories for the Back to the Classics Challenge, but actually, this book would work for “A Classic that has been adapted into a movie or T.V. series.” I have been toying with buying the series on dvd...ostensibly for my mom, but you know, I could then borrow it. : )

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I was also missing a page from a Persephone book I got via ILL, The Homemaker by Dorothy Canfield Fisher (which I loved). It had been cut out of the book! Luckily, I found it online, but it was so annoying.

      I also have a copy of Queen Lucia, but it's the fourth book in the series so I feel like I should read them in order, so I'll have to wait until later this year. I was thinking about them for my movie/TV adaptation as well! I've never read them but I've heard they're very funny (and I'm thinking about including a humor or satire classic next year if I host the challenge again!)

      Delete
  6. This series has been recommended to me so many times. I really need to get on it. I figure one series at a time. I'm about to start A Dance to the Music of Time and then maybe I'll start the Cazelets.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Oh! I've had this book on my to-read list for awhile - I added it after seeing a "Read Downton Abby-esque books" list. But now that the DA fandom is a mainstream thing, I was worried those books weren't all that great. So it's good to hear that this one is a worthwhile, enjoyable read. Now I want to get to it this year!

    ReplyDelete
  8. I'm so pleased you got there in the end, and that the book was worth it. I read all of the Cazalet books years ago - long before the dramatization - and I would so love to read them again. The stories you have ahead of you are lovely, and would be a wonderful reward for completing the dare.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Sounds like such a marvelous book that I have started my own quest for a copy of this book. If paperbackswap doesn't come through, I'll look in my library. With the 100th anniversary of the start of WWI, I'll be reading a lot from this time period.

    Great review--loved your story!

    ReplyDelete
  10. BBC 4 just started broadcasting the last book this week,

    ReplyDelete