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?