The tangled lives of three generations evoke a vanished world in this, the first volume of the Cazalet Chronicle.
Home Place, Sussex, 1937. The English family at home.... For two unforgettable summers, they gathered together, safe from the advancing storm clouds of war. In the heart of the Sussex countryside, these were still sunlit days of childish games, lavish family meals, and picnics on the beach.
Three generations of the Cazalet family played out their lives - with their relatives, their children and their servants - and the fascinating triangle of their affairs....
©1990 Elizabeth Jane Howard (P)2014 Audible, Inc.
Audiobooks have literally changed my life. I now actually ENJOY doing mindless chores because they give me plenty of listening time!
This is the first book of the Cazalet Chronicles, a family saga about the Cazalet family clan living very comfortably thanks to a family business—this prompting me to think of them henceforward as another set of Forsytes (see The Forsyte Saga by John Galsworthy), another family clan living comfortably from the fruit of their trade. It starts in the late 1930s while Europe is on the brink of WWII. Most of the actions takes place during two consecutive summer family vacations, when the whole clan are gathered at their Sussex family home. There are three generations of Cazalets, with spouses and their families plus the servants and various employees to keep track of, and while I usually have quite a bit of trouble remembering who is who when there are more than a handful of characters, this was more or less easily done here, as each of the characters is very well drawn and has a unique individual story.
The children are busy at their games and worries; about going back to school and attendant bullying for the boys, while the girls are dreaming up their future career options given the minimal education they are offered; acting, being a nun, nursing are a few possibilities. Their elderly impoverished teacher with a face like a toad and a heart of gold was a personal favourite. Their fathers, three Cazalet siblings, are all veterans from WWI. The eldest is badly affected by his war wounds and suffers from debilitating headaches (how I empathized with him!), the second is an inveterate womanizer who descends into downright disgusting lechery, while the third and youngest (and comparatively poor) brother has married a very young girl who seems to offer nothing but her beauty, after tragically losing his first wife, and badly failing to establish his painting career. Their unmarried sister meanwhile is charged with caring for her elderly father who is slowly losing his eyesight but not ready to relinquish his post of command, while she is also involved in a chaste love affair more or less sanctioned by the family.
These are innocent times, when the menace of oncoming war seems more like a fictional possibility than a real threat, though by the second summer, in 1938, when the German annexation of Czechoslovakia seems inevitable and before the signing of the Munich agreement, preparations for an assault are underway at the Cazalet compound just in case Chamberlain’s meeting with Hitler doesn’t go so well and London must be evacuated. All in all, a very satisfying piece of historical fiction seen through a modern writer’s eye, so that things which would have been left unsaid by a contemporary writer are here fully revealed. This very much brought to mind another favourite female British author’s work, The Camomile Lawn by Mary Wesley, which was also written in the late 20th century; it too is about a large family clan, with the story beginning during innocent pre-war summer holidays, here taking place in Cornwall. The fifth book in the Cazalet Chronicles was published recently and I will almost certainly make my way to it with time. Thanks to Suzanne and Heather on LibraryThing for strongly recommending this series of novels. I should also mention that the narration by Jill Balcon was delightful.
No! I much prefer the print version
There is too much dynamic range - the reader is sometimes whisper quiet, so you turn up the volume and the next paragraph is too loud; this is very disruptive and annoying. The reader does not differentiate between the characters, so it's not easy to tell who is speaking.
I love the story but had to go to the print version to enjoy it, I have listened to many audio books but have not been so disappointed before.
"A snapshot of pre-WW2 upper middle class life"
As the first in a quartet of novels I really enjoyed this book. The writing was excellent and drew me in quickly to the lives of the well-to-do Cazelet family, with their individual London homes as well as their large family home in Sussex. The individual characters in the story are all interesting, with the aging Brig and Duchy as heads of the family, plus their 3 children and their spouses, all in their 30s when this saga opens. It was well read by Jill Balcon who was a friend of the author. Two warnings, though. Firstly there are so many characters in the novel (20+) and the story switches so frequently from one family set to another, that I finally resorted to sketching out a family tree so I could keep track! Also, if you enjoyed listening to this book, don't make the same mistake I did of purchasing all 3 of the remaining volumes at once. My enjoyment rapidly diminished as the focus of the saga moved from the 2nd generation featured in this book to their children in the remaining novels.
"A magnificent listening experience"
A not to be missed listening experience. Jill Balcon's reading is faultless in accent, tone and rhythm. She brings all the characters to life and you just don't want to stop listening. I had already read the book when it was published and loved it, but coming again to the series through audio was an even better experience. Despite the many books available about life during the second world war, this is one of the most vivid and realistic. In some cases it is painful, but mostly it brilliantly describes the borningness of life without being boring itself and you are swept along as you follow the hopes and fears of Louise, Polly, Edward, Diana and the others - and there are four books - bliss.
I'm not normally into 'sweeping family sagas' but had heard some of the abridged Cazelet series acted out on the radio, and wanted to hear the full version. Jill Balcon is a wonderful reader, her characterisations are so unique to each person that one forgets one is listening to a single narrator. Since listening to The Light Years I am eagerly looking forward to hearing the remaining three volumes.
"Enjoyable upmarket soap-opera"
Though there are so many characters such that I wasn't always sure who was whom, I did enjoy this family saga set between the two World Wars. Jill Balcon does a fine job of narration injecting the characters with real life. The book admirably evokes the era coloured by the traumas of the First WW and the hopes that there wouldn't be another war in Europe.
"Great story and beautifully read."
I loved this book and have gone on to read the other volumes. Jill Balcon is a superb narrator who acts out the book giving the characters different voices and accents etc. so it's like listening to a radio play than a book reading.
It's quite a gentle story with a few shocking moments in it that take you by surprise.
I liked the way Elizabeth Jane Howard explores all the different characters so you begin to understand them and can see how the family fits together. I felt transported back in time and found the way that people then conducted their relationships very interesting. I wished my grandmother was still alive to discuss it with as she would have been about 20 at the time this book was set.
Impossible to choose as there are so many great characters. Possibly Christopher. I liked his conscientious objector views and the continuous debate in his head as he challenged his opinions on life and war etc. I could pick almost any character though.
Again, very hard to choose. Perhaps Sid? I loved the way Jill deepened her voice slightly for her character. Jill was also great at reading all the child parts.
When Hugh was rushing to get to Home Farm for the birth of the twins. I felt quite panicked listening to that and very shocked about the cat. I was surprised that Radio 4 hadn't included this scene in their radio dramatisation.
I also have the paper copy of the book which has a family tree at the start of it which was very useful as I would have struggled to work out how all the characters fitted together without it.
The subject matter, life before the war
The Characters, each slowly developing
No I haven't
No...this is best kept to relaxation and listened to in chapters. There is alot to digest
A really good insight into the middle class family situation before the war. The begining can seem complicated but as you get familiar with the family it comes together well once the story gets under way. I loved the atmosphere the book delivered. An absorbing peek into a family that seems to have it all. Loved the narrator.
"Evocation of a Lost England"
1930s-50s Family Saga
Mary Wesley's and Joanna Trollope's novels, but infinitely better - what those others ought to be
I haven't, but I will - her performance is perfect for these books and marvellously nuanced, I really admire her.
I became very involved with all the characters
This does not on the face of it seem a terribly exciting story but the depth of perception about humanity and the excellence of characterisation, combined with the rich period detail and poignance of many of the story threads make it absolutely superb. I wanted to listen to it all the time. An astonishing work of imagination. The best thing I've heard from Audible so far (with The Goldfinch running a close second)
"A vanished world"
Beautifully read, beautifully written, first of four novels which chronicle the lives and world of the Cazalet family. It is slow paced, with meticulous (but seemingly effortless) period detail, giving the reader entry into the world of a privileged family as Europe descends into the horrors of WW2. How grotesque, however, is the obvious disparity between the lives of these characters cushioned from poverty and despair and what was going on in the rest of the world, but part of me - of course - is not ashamed to admit a certain amount of envy not to have been part of that lifestyle and it is a very enjoyable listen. Not for those requiring a ripping yarn, however...
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