Top positive review
5 people found this helpful
on 16 March 2014
First published in 1965, Elizabeth Jane Howard's fourth novel 'After Julius' focuses on the family of Julius Grace, the story beginning twenty years after the death of Julius, who was shot and killed during the evacuation of troops from Dunkirk in 1940. Esme, Julius's widow, is fifty eight when we first meet her; she lives alone in Sussex and enjoys her comfortable home and pretty garden. She has two daughters living in a shared flat in London: the stunningly beautiful Cressida (Cressy), a concert pianist, who is in her late thirties; and the quietly attractive Emma, who is in her late twenties and works for the family firm of publishers. Cressy, who was widowed during the war after a very brief marriage, has a string of unsatisfactory relationships behind her and is, at present, involved in an unhappy affair with a married man; Emma, is very wary of men and has just begun a friendship with Daniel, a practically penniless poet who is published by Emma's firm, and who is from a rather different section of the social scale to the upper-middle-class Graces. In addition, we meet Doctor Felix King, a middle-aged man who, when he was in his twenties, had an affair with Esme whilst Julius was still alive, and now home from working abroad, wants to meet up with Esme whom he has not seen for twenty years. (No spoilers, we learn all of this fairly early on in the novel). One weekend, all of these characters, and a few additional extras (one of them a disastrous surprise for at least one member of the family) congregate at Esme's home where, at the dinner party from hell, some rather surprising home truths are revealed and where we learn more about what actually happened to Julius.
Beautifully written and with some wonderful descriptions of situation and setting, this novel is a pleasure to read. Elizabeth Jane Howard deftly contrasts the comfortable Grace family home, with the rather dilapidated London flat rented by the two girls with its leaky roof and bathroom painted the colour of tinned peas, and there are some lovely descriptions of the natural world. The author portrays her characters with sensitivity and although, with the amount of characters appearing in this book, it is difficult to get to know them particularly well, I very much enjoyed reading about all of them - even Esme's housekeeper's cowardly cat who was too scared to catch anything but butterflies. Written with perception, elegance and with a certain gentle irony, I found this novel an enjoyable and very entertaining read. Recommended.