As usual, written in her beautiful English, this book is a gentle stroll through the lives of the four characters involved, rather than anything else. So when you are sick of the bestsellers with their action packed modern style, read this for a stressless dip into beautiful prose.
First published in 1959, Elizabeth Jane Howard's beautifully written third novel 'The Sea Change' focuses on four protagonists: Emmanuel, a half-Jewish, half-Irish playwright in his early sixties; his beautiful, but ailing wife, Lillian, still suffering from the tragic death of their daughter fourteen years previously; Emmanuel's devoted assistant, Jimmy; and Alberta, a nineteen-year-old clergyman's daughter, who becomes Emmanuel's secretary and later plays a much more significant role in his life. The story begins with Emmanuel searching for a young woman to play the lead part in his latest production which is about to transfer to New York - however, before he can focus his energies on the search, he has to deal with a suicide attempt made by his middle-aged secretary, with whom he has been having a casual affair, and who is devastated when she learns he will not be taking her to New York. Emmanuel's wife, Lillian, aware that her husband has a roving eye, chooses the young, inexperienced and seemingly ordinary Alberta, as a new secretary for her husband, thinking that Alberta's lack of sophistication and her vicarage background will keep her safe from Emmanuel's attentions. Alberta, however, is a rather special person and as the story moves from London to New York, and then to a Greek island, we see not just Alberta's transformation, but also how she acts as a catalyst in the the lives of Emmanuel, Lillian and Jimmy - but to reveal more would spoil the story for those who have yet to read it.
As always with Elizabeth Jane Howard, this is an exquisitely written story with marvellous characterisations and some wonderful descriptions of situation and setting. Alberta is a delightful creation, shining with truth and goodness and one of the EJH's most enchanting and endearing heroines. The story is told through a combination of first and third person narratives and the author allows the reader to access the thoughts and motivations of each of her characters in a way that pulls the reader into the story and keeps them involved in the protagonists' lives from the beginning of the story to the end. Perceptive, insightful and very beguiling, this novel is one I find very easy to recommend.
The synapsis does not do this book justice. It is really a detailed character study of 4 people, as they travel together and their lives gradually change direction. Very honest emotionally and well written, as is typical of this author.
In this beautifully-written, modulated and very thoughtful book, Elizabeth Jane Howard describes an entirely vanished world. This was her first book, published in 1959, and in her book Slipstream: A Memoir she describes her disappointment at how little notice was taken by the intelligentsia. Her writing did not really receive its due until the publication of the Cazalet books - a quartet saga set before, during and after WWII, which were bestsellers, with women readers in particular.
There is an extraordinary amount of detailed thinking from all four of the main characters who are all intelligent, highly strung and deeply reflective people. Emmanuel, a playwright, is trying to find the right actress to take part in his play which is about to be put on in New York. His wife, Lilian, is looking for a secretary for him, preferably one he won't seduce as the latest one has recently tried (and failed) to commit suicide after learning she wouldn't be accompanying him to New York. Jimmy, Emmanuel's right-hand man in the theatre business has lots of chips on his shoulder, primarily related to being an orphan, and the new secretary, Alberta, is a sweet, innocent girl of 19 with a large family living in genteel poverty in the English countryside.
The story takes place in London, New York and on a Greek island and is tremendously engaging, providing one can take the deep introspection and rather tortuous sequences of thought each of the protagonists goes through. The writing is old-fashioned but not dull and the characters, for all their introspective similarities are distinct and provoking. Self-insight is important and valued in this book, and each character has it to a varying degree and at a different stage, so intellectually, this book is quite demanding. If you don't care for the workings of people's minds, you won't like this book. It has as much ambition as the Cazalet chronicles, but in a different direction. Where the Cazalet books tend to preserve a balance between feisty and intricate plotting and life, love and family events, The Sea Change is mostly a book about interior processes of discovery on a somewhat more static plane. However, the characters are lively and engaging. I enjoyed it.