Thursday’s Old Favourite: The Cazalet Chronicles

The Cazalet Chronicles is a kind of historical saga set in England around the years of World War Two. The great thing about it is that there is such a large cast of characters and multiple plot threads, that every time I read it there is more to discover. It follows the Cazalet family of three sons, Hugh, Edward and Rupert, and their families – particularly daughters Polly, Louise and Clary – who each take up a chunk of the narrative. There’s also the unmarried sister/aunt, Villy, as well as elderly parents which provide a link with the past.  Howard published the Chronicles in the 1990s and they were massively successful, with a follow-up book, All Change, in 2013 about the same characters some years later.

What I really like about it:

  • These are warts and all characters – they all have issues (vanity, lack of drive, selfishness, petulance, and much more) but are still sympathetically drawn. The war gives them all a shake-up and we see who discovers new strengths they didn’t know they had.
  • The elderly parents’ large country house forms a family base and is interesting because of the Victorian traditions that still hold sway. It seems to be forever summer here with tea on the lawn, jam making and children escaping the grown-ups in the vast gardens. But you can see that with the war, all this is going to change.
  • The sub-plots around children are wonderful – the games, the secrets, the heartbreak of being sent to public school (the boys), or no school at all (the girls). And the servants get a look-in too. All are roundly drawn and interesting.
  • This family is obviously ‘county’ but war throws them out of their normal county way of planning their lives – characters collide in unexpected ways and follow unexpected career/relationship paths.
  • It may be a saga, but EJH is no light-weight when it comes to craft, having written some seriously good literary fiction, such as The Long View and The Beautiful Visit. She was married to Kingsley Amis for a time and hung out with top writers of the day including Cecil Day Lewis and Laurie Lee.

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