Readers of the four Cazalet Chronicles that proceed this volume will be eager to read this book, concerning as it does the final elements of the stories of the many family members. It would be possible to read this book without the previous books in mind, as I did originally several years after reading the fourth episode. The book is better read fairly soon after the previous novels, if only because it concerns a large cast of characters and it is sometimes tricky to remember who belongs to which family, which is particularly important when one relationship erupts in this book. Howard had a great gift for characterization, so each character, right down to the smallest baby, is a fully realised person. This is a sad volume in some ways; as the Duchy, the matriarch of the Cazalets slips away in the first pages, it is symbolic of the final days of a way of life in which the big house, Home Place, was the centre of the family’s existence. A shelter in wartime for most of the children and many of their parents, the shabbiness of the house and its furnishing becomes a theme. It is comforting, familiar, and thus established as a character in the novel.
The eldest brother, Hugh, has found happiness with Jemima and her boys, and is cheerfully dominated by his small daughter Laura. Polly is in a large house with her husband Gerald, and is coping well with being a mother and manager of a large estate despite financial challenges. Edward is discovering the challenges of living with Diana, while Villy struggles to move on. Louise is stuck in a relationship which is unfulfilling. Clary, whose marriage was significant in the fourth novel, has challenges to face in this novel. Meanwhile several of the other cousins begin to discover that life is not easy, especially in love. The narration moves from family members to the various situations they find themselves, honestly and in small details. There is death, but there is also romantic discoveries and a strengthening of relationships.
This family saga which has stretched over five substantial novels is very worth reading, or re reading, as it is such a vital and dynamic portrait of so many people. Howards’ mastery of dialogue makes this story, or collection of stories, a vivid story of people who become almost real to the readers. She has a particular gift for describing children, their obsessions and speech which makes them feel alive. As these chronicles stretch from before the Second World War to 1956, much has happened over the period in the world which has all been faithfully drawn through the eyes of each person featuring in the novel. Some people have been in the background, others have dominated because of the drama of their lives. Having said that, no one is forgotten in this summation of the saga, as a new and somewhat harsh world has emerged. I found this a fascinating book, full of the lively descriptions of people that make them seem so real. It manages to gather up so many themes which have developed in the previous novels that it is an achievement; it also manages to move them on in a realistic way just as life would over such a long period. Each person is given such a strong voice that I really enjoyed finding out about what motivated them and how they coped with life’s challenges. This book is a triumphant ending to a memorable series of novels, and if you have not yet delved into the world of the Cazalets, I recommend that you will find it more than worthwhile and enjoyable.