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4.0 out of 5 stars
13
4.0 out of 5 stars


on 8 April 2003
Elizabeth Jane Howard, most recently famous for her quartet of bestsellers about the Cazalet family, is memorable for her subtlety and emotional intelligence. Her novels, fed by sensitive observation and unflinching, often painful honesty, are compellingly, page-turningly readable without losing one jot of sophistication. The author has lived a long life and known many luminaries of the literary scene. Something In Disguise was wrriten when she was in middle life, married to the great comic novelist Kingsley Amis and stepmother to Martin.
It deals with surprises. May, mother of two grown-up children, lost her husband during the Second World War and has misguidedly married again. Her second husband is, she thinks, merely difficult and cantankerous. As the story progresses, the reader—and May—will learn how much more sinister this bumbling old soldier really is.
The children, Oliver and Elizabeth, make their own discoveries during the course of the novel. Attractive, shallow Oliver finds himself falling for a girl who simply won't succumb to his easy charm; and shy Elizabeth, hiring herself out as a dinner party cook in London, meets the unlikely man who will transform and illuminate her future.
Most touching of all is Alice, hapless daughter of May's villainous husband. Escaping life at home by drifting into marriage with a hideously well observed philistine, her marital agonies are recorded with relentless comedy and a wealth of compassion.
As always with an Elizabeth Jane Howard novel, the characters are fully alive and the story grips as tightly as a thriller. This isn't, in my opinion, one of her best works—I'd recommend The Long View, The Beautiful Visit and After Julius—but, coming from her hand, it can't fail to charm, enlighten and absorb. She is a beautiful artist and, once encountered, vividly colours the memory.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 4 February 2016
First published in 1969, Elizabeth Jane Howard's fifth novel 'Something in Disguise' tells the story of May, whose husband was killed during WW2, leaving her a widow with two children: Oliver and Elizabeth, who are now twenty-four and twenty years old respectively. Some years after her husband's death, May married Colonel Herbert Browne-Lacey, a widower with a daughter, Alice; however May is beginning to realize that her decision to marry Herbert was most probably a very unwise one. Herbert, we soon learn, is a pompous bore - May's children, particularly Oliver, tease him whenever the opportunity arises - but Herbert is not just a bore, he is a selfish, domineering and penny-pinching bully. Having coerced May into buying (with her money) a large, rambling and dankly-cold house in the country, he rations the electricity and the heating, keeps their alcohol supply locked up in his firelit study and, when he is not at home, he spends his time at his club or in other 'pursuits' leaving May to cope with the upkeep of the huge house practically on her own - which she finds increasingly difficult, especially as lately she has been feeling rather unwell.

Oliver, who can't bear Herbert, has left home and lives in London and although a personable and clever young man, has difficulty holding down a job and drifts from one insincere love affair to another; Elizabeth, keen to make a new life for herself soon follows him to London. Even Alice, who tells herself that she loves her father, is desperate to leave home and finds herself accepting a marriage proposal from the very dull and suburban Leslie. In London, Elizabeth (who has spent six months training as a Cordon Bleu cook) takes a job with an agency which sends her to cook supper parties for affluent clients and, through her work, she meets the much older and very wealthy John Cole, with whom she falls in love, and he with her, despite opposition from his needy daughter who does her best to come between them. Oliver, financially strapped and keen to marry a rich debutante, tells himself he has fallen for the beautiful and amoral Ginny, but when he gets to know her better, discovers she is not quite as she appears on the surface. And while Elizabeth and Oliver pursue their own lives, May becomes mysteriously more unwell with each passing day and decides that perhaps she should write her will…

As expected from Elizabeth Jane Howard, this is a beautifully written story peopled with interesting characters and full of marvellous descriptions of situation and setting - even Alice's cat, Claude (who plays a rather significant role in the novel) is wonderfully described, and Herbert - who becomes more unpleasant and sinister as the story progresses - makes the reader (or this one, anyhow) feel increasingly uncomfortable the more we read about him. Wise, perceptive, darkly amusing and with more than one surprise at the end of the tale, I found this an entertaining and very enjoyable novel and one that will go straight back onto one of my bookshelves to be read and enjoyed again.

5 Stars.

Also highly recommended by Elizabeth Jane Howard: The Beautiful Visit;Odd Girl Out;After Julius;Getting It Right;Love All and Falling.
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on 12 August 2017
I found this book odd and disjointed . I think it's because the first I read from this author was The Cazalet Chronicles and I'm still hoping to find the same delight in another of her works. I can't seem to like any of these characters ( not even Elizabeth in this one... a bit wet ) Just bought another one so I'm still hoping.
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on 4 May 2014
The book arrived on time in the condition described and was also a good read, though something of a period piece. It was the first book by Elizabeth Jane Howard that I had read and has inspired me to read some more.
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on 27 December 2014
A story that takes you back in time, the time of memories you have heard of or or been a part of all those years ago. Thank you Elizabeth Jane .
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on 10 August 2013
Elizabeth Jane Howard is an excellent story teller. Like all of her novels this was unputdownable. Goodness knows where she gets such splendid plots, all her books that I have read I have liked. This was a real good read!
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on 18 November 2016
Thoroughly enjoyed this book. It had pace, some great comedic intensity--very English middle class authentic. Some great observations on relationships. I love this writer. Also a long term girlfriend of Martin Amis..
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on 23 February 2014
Funny and clever at the same time. We know all these characters in our own lives! EJH at her most observant best.
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on 28 September 2014
A bit of a "woman's mag" story. Told in that manner and with characters to match
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on 17 November 2014
It was a Christmas present to my wife who enjoyed listening to it.
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