The Duchess of Cornwall once declared the Cazalet Chronicles by British writer Elizabeth Jane Howard to be among her favourite books.
Don’t hold that against them. This very fine family saga, which sprawls across five books, follows the Cazalet fortunes from 1937 to 1956.
At the time of publication (in the 1980s and 1990s), the series was slotted into to the “books for women, by a women” category; thankfully, Howard’s oeuvre in recent years has been re-assessed by literary critics and the books’ themes of war, heartbreak, stately homes and their upkeep, inheritance, post-war nation rebuilding, and strained family ties are considered universal.
Twice-Booker prize winner Dame Hilary Mantel of Wolf Hall fame considers the Cazalet Chronicles a triumph.
“The novels are panoramic, expansive, intriguing as social history and generous in their storytelling,” Mantel wrote in The Guardian in 2016.
“They are the product of a lifetime’s experience, and come from a writer who knew her aim and had the stamina and technical skill to achieve it.”
It’s 1937 and the Cazalet family has gathered at Home Place, the Sussex estate “The Brig” and his wife, Kitty (known as “The Duchy”). Their children – daughter Rachel, sons Rupert, Edward and Hugh, their wives and children – gather as Britain lumbers along in its dealings with Hitler.
War seems inevitable, and a cloud of anxiety gathers over their beautiful part of England.
This second volume begins in 1939 as war is declared.
The Cazalets’ lives are forever changed with men enlisting, children being shunted out of London to the countryside, and the Cazalet family business trying to survive.
As the war continues, the lives of the Cazalets are turned upside down with tragedy, drama and anxiety. The teenagers have reached adulthood against the backdrop of air raids and rationing.This volume concludes with the end of World War Two.
The three key Cazalet children – Polly, Clary and Louise – are now adults and ready to rebuild their lives in post-war Britain.
Things have changed at the old family home in Sussex, and the family business is trying to adapt to a new world order.
The final book in the Cazalet Chronicles says goodbye to the family’s matriarch, the Duchy, and a farewell to a Victorian lifestyle of servants and big houses and class boundaries.
The Duchy’s children are now in their 60s and making sense of a modern Britain and different business environment, while their children are juggling love affairs, parenthood and career dreams.
Corrie Perkin is a Melbourne journalist and bookseller whose Hawksburn shop My Bookshop is still open via mybookshop.com.au and taking book orders on 03 9824 2990