To gain full enjoyment out of this book you do need to have read the previous four
Cazalet Chronicles by Elizabeth Jane Howard.
This volume opens with the death of the Duchy. It is 1956 and with the passing of the
old lady the life of privelege found in the earlier chronicles comes to an end also.
The author does a brilliant job of bringing the reader up to speed with past
histories without holding up the continuing story.
In this post-war world, the family finds itself facing the challenges of a changing
world and economic climate, and are dealing with an uncertain future. This is a
new world, where financial securities of the past are jeopardised. Prosperity of
the family buisness can longer be guaranteed, consequently bold decisions have to
be taken concerning the fate of the beautiful country house which was the setting
of so many idyllic summers and Christmases in the past.
E J Howard draws the reader in fully and convincingly, so you feel involved in these characters
lives and care deeply about them. Howard's strength is bringing alive historical
detail and brings into play social, cultural and economic changes and how they impact
on the day to day lives of individuals.
This is a book reflecting on change in all its forms and nostalgic though it is - the
harshness of modern times and events do reflect the life of the author herself who at
the age of ninety has written an engaging and powerful closing chapter of the Cazalet
chronicles - a gem of a book.
on 9 November 2013
The Cazalet novels are modern classics, and I was so looking forward to this slightly unexpected bonus.
In the really important ways I wasn't disappointed. Howard is masterly at representing real life through the prism of fiction, it's high points and dull realities, pleasures and pains.
However (as another reviewer has said) there is the glaring error that it was Hugh's son William's twin who died at birth, not Simon's. Yet more than that, facts presented in the four previous novels have been altered. Simon was not told that his mother Sybil died by his Headmaster; he was brought home from school in time to say goodbye, when she was still conscious, a fact that upset his sister Polly who was only taken in to see her when she wasn't. In CASTING OFF Simon was also a success at University and set to be a doctor, confident and sure of his place in the world. This is not reflected in this book at all.
It makes me wonder how well the current editor actually knew the quartet of previous books. That grouch over, I loved the novel.
on 3 January 2014
I start to write this having just learned of the death of the author, Elizabeth Jane Howard. One of her last interviews, with the Daily Telegraph, includes the telling sentence about the hiatus between Casting Off, the fourth Cazalet novel, and All Change - "absolute hell from a continuity point of view. You keep on having to remember what you called someone's chauffeur 15 years ago. It's quite hard work, that."
And it shows. All Change is a dreary, depressing read. The children lack the charm of the previous generation, and the quasi-incestuous storyline beggars belief (yes, I'm well aware that Edward molested the teenage Louise, but she reacted with revulsion. This particular "relationship" is beyond any kind of credibility). Diana turns into a monster promised in Casting Off. Villy continues as the wronged heroine. Simon turns into another Christopher. One particular death is a real shock which the readers could have been spared. I genuinely wish that Miss Howard, may she rest in peace, had stopped at four volumes and left us devotees with our memories.
on 4 March 2014
Firstly, let me say that I loved the original four-book Cazalet saga. That's why I bought Book 5 and it's also why I've found it such a disappointment.
The first quarter seemed to re-tell the plot of the earlier novels unnecessarily - I can't imagine anyone who hasn't read the first four books would be interested in Book 5, so why bore the reader by going over the same ground? This links in with another problem I had with the fifth novel: Elizabeth Jane Howard seems to have lost her nerve. The earlier books were models of psychological insight, giving just enough information to convey the story, the characters' feelings, the era and the themes, without over-writing or explaining too much. She would move on from viewpoint to viewpoint with skill, verve and confidence, leaving it to the reader to fill in the gaps. In book 5, however, she seems to no longer do this - she fills in the gaps endlessly and in an often pedestrian manner. She has characters saying something and then feels the need to explain what they meant, as if the reader might not have got it. She loses the lightness of touch of the earlier novels and adds weight without depth.
I found the dialogue too, at times, rather inauthentic and dull, with some characters badly drawn (Teddy's Irish barmaid being a case in point). The children were unconvincing and twee, rather than delightfully comic as in the earlier novels, though I found Georgie more convincing than the others. The older characters generally retained their shape, though sometimes just became dull or else Howard seemed to forget them and they were barely mentioned.
In the earlier books, Howard used repetition of plot-lines in order to explore themes - for instance, the series of young women engaged in romantic liaisons of varying degrees of success with older men, from Edward's creepy molestation of his daughter to the touching romance between Archie and Clary. Many of these relationships revealed the exploitation of youth by unscrupulous older men, highlighting feminist issues perhaps - the number of exploitative men in the novels was extraordinary. However, the repetition by and large worked very well. However, in the fifth book, I felt the romantic plot-lines became repetitive in a boring way, in places almost Mills and Boonish, in others incredibly implausible (Neville and Juliet? Really?). I thought Louise was remarkably forgiving of her father!
There were several places where I almost decided to give up the fifth book but I stuck it out as a tribute to Elizabeth Jane Howard - the first four books are superb, and it is just sad really that she thought it wise to write a fifth so late in the day when her powers were waning. It isn't all bad however. I thought the description of the decline of the firm was masterful, and Rachel and Sid were well-drawn. But in the end it was lightweight, rather than light of touch, and heavy going.
Nine years on from the end of Casting Off: Cazalet Chronicles Book 4, All Change describes family coping with the decline of the Cazalets' wealth in post-war Britain. The children from The Light Years now have children of their own, and the future of Home Place is uncertain after the death of the Duchy. If you haven't read any of the other Cazalet Chronicles, then don't start here: go and read The Light Years: Cazalet Chronicles Book 1 and the rest, or you'll be lost in this enormous family. There are précis of the back story as each character is reintroduced, which will be helpful if it's a while since you've read the previous books, but I still found myself struggling to keep up with the names of the new children (though having the notes on the Cazalets to refer to will help). There was even a moment when I started to wonder if the author herself had forgotten who was who, but that was resolved later on. If you've read the rest, then you'll want to read this final chronicle. It is as enjoyable and fascinating as the others, following the threads of the different characters' lives. There was a moment towards the end that I thought was a little forced, however, and didn't quite fit with the general style of the chronicles. I felt the ending was less satisfactory and left more loose ends than that of Casting Off, but perhaps that's the point: the family's lives will go on, some happily, some less so, and a neat happy ending would probably have felt too contrived.
on 14 May 2014
This book is rather disappointing. I thoroughly enjoyed the other four in the series but this is of inferior literary quality. It is less well structured and leaves the reader feeling that the author was tired and eager to complete the book. The characterisation is below par in that there is little development that is not cliched. A series of short jerky chapters which presumably is intended to indicate pace simply comes over as superficial. This is furthered by the fact that the more interesting characters have died! Without doubt a book too far.
This series has always been a superior family saga tracing the Cazalet family from 1937 through the second world war. This final volume is set in 1956-8 and not just have the privileged life-styles of the Cazalets changed, but the world of the book. Characters who were once vivid and individual have become flat and interchangeable to such an extent that it's difficult to keep them apart - not a problem in the earlier volumes.
There's little plot to speak of and the narrative itself feels meandering and fragmented, jumping between numerous characters, and often only lingering with them for a few pages before moving off again.
An obsession with food seems to replace characterisation (`they assembled in the dining room for poached chicken with vegetables followed by strawberry shortcake and cream', `they ate potted shrimps, roast pheasant and a cold lemon soufflé', `I make brandy snaps for my pa and chocolate truffles for my ma and aunt') and there is little emotional engagement with anyone in the book.
I've enjoyed Howard's other books but this is a sadly disappointing ending to the series.
on 3 September 2015
A leap forward in time; the fourth book in The Cazalet Chronicles left us in 1947 but this, the last in the series, runs from June 1956 to December 1958. Much has changed in the 11 years after VE Day: Queen Elizabeth succeeds to the throne after the death of her father King George VI, there are eight million refugees within Germany’s borders, President Eisenhower is elected. And in the world of the Cazalets, The Duchy dies.
This final book is an examination of the nature of love that persists despite pain and trouble. The cousins experience difficulties in love – affairs, divorce, misguided attachments and betrayal – while their parents are fractured by the failure of the family timber business. Suddenly there is no money: houses must be sold, servants let go after years of service, meals cooked and houses cleaned without help. Family love persists through this dark time and, as throughout the war, the Cazalet family emerges out the other side, shaped differently for the next decade.
Reading the last book in a well-loved series is always a mixed feeling: delight and loss. So it is with wonder that I consider how Elizabeth Jane Howard wrote this final book of the series when she was 90, completing it before she died in January 2014.
on 3 June 2014
“ALL CHANGE” is one of those novels that reveals a rich, colorful, and vivid canvas studded with a variety of interesting, complex, and compelling characters whose lives tug at the heart, bring out ripples of ticklish laughter, and captures the reader’s interest. It is the fifth novel in The Cazalet Chronicles, which are set in Britain and span from the 1930s to the 1950s.
The novel begins with the death, in the late spring of 1956, of 'the Duchy', who, at 89, was the matriarch of the Cazalets. Her daughter, Rachel, was at her side, as ever faithful, steadfast, loving, supportive, and wholly unselfish. Her brothers --- Hugh, Edward, and Rupert (varying in age from mid to late 50s) --- along with their families (many of whom will be familiar to readers of the previous 4 novels in the series) are caught up in a series of challenges and jarring changes in their lives in a world in which they feel woefully ill-equipped to live and thrive. Rachel, too, is faced with difficulties in her relationship with the love of her life, and with the possible loss of all that she has held dear. Elizabeth Jane Howard is a fantastic writer who knows how to make a word, a phrase, or a paragraph resonate with the reader in each chapter (which is named for a specific character or characters and serves to shed a special focus on the person or persons it highlights).
Once the reader becomes immersed in “ALL CHANGE”, he/she won’t want to leave. The lives of the people it relates become real and tangible. Indeed, for all its 592 pages, I fairly raced through this novel, never feeling bored or bogged down by minutae or tiresome details.
The Cazalets are people that I came to deeply care about in the 11 years I’ve known them. And now that I’ve finished reading “ALL CHANGE”, I feel utterly bereft. Elizabeth Jane Howard passed away last January. So, there will be no more Cazalet novels. While this causes me sadness and frustration --- because I would have loved to see many of the younger characters mature and flower in future decades --- I am grateful to have had the pleasure of this gift which Elizabeth Jane Howard has left us as her literary legacy.
on 13 August 2015
“All Change” is the fifth and final book in the Cazalet chronicles. It is the 1950’s and the last of a generation dies. As the Duchy dies, she takes with it memories of a world that will never be seen again. A world of large country houses, servants and class division.
The children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren are in a world where financial security can no longer be guaranteed and sacrifices have to be made. The 3 sons, now in their sixties are struggling to find their place in this rapidly changing world whilst their children are living increasingly modern lives – a world where women are not tied to the home but free to balance their ambitions with the roles of being a wife and a mother.
However, it is Rachel who faces the biggest challenge of the 4 Cazalet children. Having lived her life for others and never had a job or done anything for herself – how will she fare when she finds herself alone in the world – a world that she has never really participated in because she has always been too busy being there for others.
As usual, Elizabeth Jane Howard doesn’t disappoint, it is such a shame that this will be the final book in what has been an amazing and ever so enjoyable series.