The Light Years
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The Light Years (Cazalet Chronicles #1)

4.02 of 5 stars 4.02  ·  rating details  ·  1,511 ratings  ·  187 reviews
In 1937, the coming war is only a distant cloud on Britain's horizon. As the Cazalet households prepare for their summer pilgrimage to the family estate in Sussex, readers meet Edward, in love with but by no means faithful to his wife Villy; Hugh, wounded in the Great War; Rupert, who worships his lovely child-bride Zoe; and Rachel, the spinster sister.
Paperback, 448 pages
Published July 1st 1995 by Washington Square Press (first published 1990)
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The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann ShafferPattern of Shadows by Judith BarrowThe End of the Affair by Graham GreeneThe Light Years by Elizabeth Jane HowardThe Shell Seekers by Rosamunde Pilcher
World War II England
4th out of 101 books — 95 voters
Pride and Prejudice by Jane AustenJane Eyre by Charlotte BrontëThe Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. TolkienWuthering Heights by Emily Brontë1984 by George Orwell
Best British and Irish Literature
246th out of 784 books — 782 voters


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Community Reviews

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John
This is the first of a three volume series about the large, upper middle class Cazalet family and their throng of servants, friends, retainers, mistresses and others. You literally need a scorecard to keep track of everyone. The setting is London and rural Sussex in 1937 and 1938. World War II is looming large on the horizon. Normally, I love sagas of this ilk, such as Brideshead Revisited. But Howard, alas, is no Evelyn Waugh or E.M. Forster. She does do a good job of re-creating the vanished w...more
Peter Grimsdale
This was completely unexpected. I happened to hear some of the serialisation on Radio 4 and thought - hang on, this is really special and ordered the book. It's astonishingly good. I'm very interested in Britain before and during World War II so that was a major box ticked. EJH's recall of what is a fictioalised account of growing up through that time is exceptional. And what is also deeply refreshing is that she comes from a background that isn't at all literary and therefore it isn't laden wit...more
Brian
The first book in a saga that explores the impact of the changes that overtook Britain in the late twentieth century, The Light Years focuses on an extended upper-middle class family just before the outbreak of World War Two. Elizabeth Jane Howard has an unusual narrative technique in that the point of view is distributed more or less evenly over more than a dozen characters so that the story is brought to us in a series of snippets.

I found this unsatisfying in that no character had ownership o...more
Jane
what a strange book this was. Lent to me by a friend, it wasn't something I'd ever have stumbled across by myself. Bursting at the seams with characters in an almost Dickensian way, there's no one in this big fat novel that doesn't get at least three or four lines told from their own point-of-view. So much of 'The Light Years' is a low-grade period piece - well told and all, but with really nothing special going on. But then every now and then there are flashes of incredible intensity, where you...more
Kate Bevan
I love this series, of which this is the first of five books: it's the pinnacle of Elizabeth Jane Howard's underrated but considerable achievement.
Donna
Chock full of details. Thoughts, clothes, furniture, what's for dinner, servants, youth, age, aunts, and there's a war coming. This was not the kind of book where turn of phrase had me repeating paragraphs, but the story moved along. The landscape was green, the tendre-vert. More buds, more leaves, more details.
There was a point where I wondered why I kept reading. I managed to figure it out. It reminded me of the books they used to read to us in elementary school. They were always about wartim...more
Susan
The Light Years is the first of series of five novels (The Cazalet Chronicles), detailing the experiences of an upper middle class family in Britain during WWII and after. The book has many characters (and, thankfully, a family tree at the front of the book, to help with who's who). It's written almost like diary entries a great deal of the time, from many of the characters points of view - even the servants - and, increasingly, as the books go on, from some of the childrens' perspective (as the...more
Ann
Sep 20, 2009 Ann rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommended to Ann by: Amy Hirschkron
Shelves: novel
I've read 3 of the four books in the series now. Marking Time and Confusion follow this one, and Casting Off is the last.

These books are extremely well-written, very engrossing and quite entertaining. (Usually the words "multi-generational saga" are enough to make me set the book aside, unless specifically recommended to me.)

This is the story of the three grown children and their children who all retreat to the parent's large country home to get through WWII. In addition to the family, other ch...more
Leigh
My absolute favorite series of books (The Cazalet Chronicles) begins with The Light Years...it's 1937 and the story opens with many branches of the wealthy Cazalet family is headed to the grandparents' home in Sussex, in the country, for the summer. WWII is on the horizon but not yet a real worry. The Cazalet children consist of three brothers: Edward, who is a completely faithless husband to his wife Villy; Hugh, who was wounded in WW I and is devoted to his wife, Sybil; Rupert, who was widowe...more
Rowena
Stumbled across this book at a used bookstore in NY. The second I saw the descriptors "upstairs, downstairs," I was hooked. Ever since Gosford Park, I've been fascinated by early 20th century landed gentry British customs. The calm, cultured, faintly ridiculous atmosphere of the "upstairs" where you dress for dinner, and the frenzied pace of the "downstairs," where cooks plan elaborate meals well in advance; maids scurry around the rooms before dawn to light fires, prepare tea, set out clothing;...more
Elena (Books & Reviews)
I started reading The Light Years right after I sat my M.A’s first exam and I chose the book because I thought I needed something more domestic and tranquil than the usual crime novel. My paperback edition made the book seem quite long and I thought it would take me ages to finish it, but Howards’ description of 1937′s everyday life and issues is as addictive as a mystery to be solved. The Light Years is the perfect mix between Mrs. Dalloway and Downton Abbey.

Although the book’s description cent...more
Kelly
I have mixed opinions of this novel. While I enjoyed the fastidious study of the family Cazleat and those around them, and the teeny tiny details that seemed so superfluous but actually ensured that you knew the characters completely and understood their vices, worries and dreams. There wasn't really an overarching plot as such, but each family and each character had their own individual stories which made a generally good book, Even if there seemed no real point to any of it.

I think that was my...more
Mana
Sep 01, 2014 Mana marked it as adandoned  ·  review of another edition
Abandoned at page number whatever.

Boring, pointless and could not read more than 10 pages at any one time. Decided to pull the plug.

Went in thinking it would be like Downton Abbey + Upstairs Downstairs but NAH. This book is the definition of mediocre-lackluster writing, slow plot. Had to stop, back to the library you go Howard.
Sarah
Definitely a women's book! A 1930s social history with delightful details of how the wealthy fictitious Cazalet family lived in the years just before WWII.

Splendid writing too, with many expressions and sayings my grandmother (who also lived in Sussex) was so fond of... Elizabeth Jane Howard gets the reader right into the head of each character (and there are rather a lot!) and the result is superb, despite the fact that there isn't really much actually going on.
Tessa Arlen
First of all I have not read anything this enjoyable in years! The story opens in the years just before WW2. And we are introduced to the Cazelet family - the elderly patriarch the Brig and his wife the Duchy who represent a much older generation with Victorian sensibilities, their three adult sons and their wives and their many fascinating children, and of course their servants. The family are spending summer together at Home Place, a sort of country house in E. Sussex, Kent countryside.

This i...more
Laura
Jan 11, 2013 Laura rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Bettie, Carey
Recommended to Laura by: Komet
From BBC Radio 4:
Elizabeth Jane Howard's family saga set in the run up to WWII, dramatised by Sarah Daniels
Stephanie
Where has Elizabeth Jane Howard been all my life? Reading this book was like hopping on a runaway train; it took me out if my life and transported me to another place with lightning speed. It was glorious to lead my life during the day and escape to this radically different world at night, when I'd settle in for a few more compulsively readable chapters. I love how Howard easily inhabits the lives of adults, children, men, women, servants and masters. Reading this book was a bit like playing a d...more
Jane
This was the chosen book group read for this month's review. It is not a book that I would have bought. I found it slow getting into the story and rather muddling at first working out who was who. Once the first half of Part One was over the story took off and I found the book a pleasant read. A light, holiday read. The story was simply told and I found in Part Two the impending war was well referenced. Good characterisations, and most of the characters quite likeable. My favourite of the brothe...more
D
Jan 21, 2014 D rated it 4 of 5 stars
Shelves: english
This is the first book in a series of 4 (or 5, I'm not sure) describing the evolution of an English (well-off, at least in this first book) family, starting in 1937. On the cover it says that this is 'a classic' in English literature. If they'd added 'minor' in front of 'classic', I would have agreed. I definitely plan to read the whole series, not for the style which is not always beautiful, but for the story.
Claude
An excellent book, once you've managed to understand and remember who is who. I must say it took me quite bit of time. But now that I have, I'm looking forward to the next volume.
Beth
Apr 22, 2009 Beth rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: everybody
Recommended to Beth by: Found it in Barnes and Noble
I read this book nine years ago, and have re-read it several times, and I also have the audio books (abridged and unabridged). This series is my absolute favorite of all time.

The author has done an exceptional job of capturing the atmosphere of an upper-income household in the 1930's and 1940's. The descriptions of the houses, areas, clothes, food, and events are superb. The character development is fantastic.

I can't recommend this series enough. My mother finally read the series, and was also t...more
Lucy
I loved this book. I loved the indulgence of the upper classes in the pre-war period and the idea of the family dynasty. I loved the way each character was important and had their own issues that were pressing to them. I loved the way that childish innocence, awkward teenager and adult responsibility were all explored seamlessly without any detraction from the progress of the novel. It is a book to be savoured and is delightfully English. I didn't want the book to finish and am all set to start...more
Linda C
I read this series sometime in the 1990s and LOVED it. Noticed that the reviews were mixed-- agreed, I started "The Light Years" (Book 1) a couple of times before I really got into it. Then I thought it was great and read all the books in the series as they came out. If you like or love books set in pre-WWII England, you will like this series. Think "Brideshead Revisited" etc. I'm totally an Anglophile, and love the period from 1900 through WWII, so this series totally captured my favorite time...more
Susan
The Light Years by Elizabeth Jane Howard is the first book of the Cazalet Chronicle family saga, set in 1937-8 England. Patriarch William “The Brig” Cazalet and his wife “The Duchy” have 3 sons (Edward, Hugh, and Rupert, each married with his own children) and a daughter Rachel, an unmarried spinster living with her parents in their sprawling Sussex estate. Cazalet family custom is for all the sons and households to spend the summer at The Home Place.

This first book of the series introduces each...more
Esdaile
"The Light Years" by Elizabeth Howard is one more in the seemingly endless stream of personal reminiscences masquerading as novels which are hitting the shelves and the virtual ebook libraries these days. It begins well enough, a trip down memory lane for those who wish to take ti again, appealing to those born circa 1920 especially. However, the novel does not change its tone or its way of recopunting from one page to the next. The characters are strongly drawn but not so initeresting that they...more
Littlebookworm
The first of a quartet of books marking the lives of the Cazalets, a middle class family, in 1930s England; this first book introduces the characters in the run up to the Second World War. We learn of the Brig and Duchy, who reside in rural Suffolk with their unmarried daughter Rachel, and also of their three sons and respective families, all of whom gather together at Home Place in the summer holidays for idle days spent at the beach, the children dreaming of their futures glistening ahead; whi...more
Lynne
I saw these books about the Cazalet family advertised at the station and so started to read them. This is the first of five books. Although originally published in the 90s the final one in the series was written last year. They really opened up for me some of the realities of the second world war as it might have been for me if I had lived through it as these characters did. They remind me a bit of Mary Wesley, especially Camomile Lawn of course. I do like the way they follow the children as the...more
Cesca
Elizabeth Jane Howard's observations of human nature are razor-sharp. This alone makes this a book worth reading. However particularly at the beginning, when many of the cast are children, there's a lot of waffly passages that are far from razor-sharp, describing things like 'then he did this, then he thought about doing this but decided against it and did this instead.' And is it ever necessary to write 'he went for a pee, before going upstairs'? How is it at all helpful to know that? Just some...more
Claire Fuller
I was surprised to like this as much as I did. A family saga? Normally, I'd say 'no thanks'. But my step mother-in-law posted me the whole series, and since nothing is nicer than receiving an unexpected parcel of books, I thought I should read the first one.

I loved how we got to dip in and out of the characters' heads, sometimes for only a couple of paragraphs. Although I would have liked to see inside Edward's head more to understand what he was thinking about the things that he did.

Other rev...more
Daisy Goodwin
In my view, this is the best of the Cazalet novels, and the bar is set pretty high. There is a grittiness to this book which undercuts the occasional cosiness. Clary one of the young girl characters decides that when she grows up she will write about all the things that other writers leave out, periods, having babies, going to the lavatory, and sex. Ejh writes about all these things but she also is a great and subtle creator of character. The depiction of Zoe the much younger second wife of one...more
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British Literature: The Light Years 1 13 Jan 23, 2012 10:28AM  
  • Saplings
  • Henrietta's War: News from the Home Front 1939-1942
  • One Fine Day
  • God Is an Englishman (Swann Saga, #1)
  • Someone at a Distance
  • The Camomile Lawn
  • Nella Last's Peace: The Post-War Diaries Of Housewife, 49
  • Greenery Street
  • Mrs. Tim Christie
  • Miss Ranskill Comes Home
  • Mariana
  • The Provincial Lady in London
  • Fair Stood the Wind for France
  • The Twisted Sword (Poldark, #11)
  • High Rising (Barsetshire #1)
  • The Shooting Party
  • Little Boy Lost
  • Land Girls
113328
Elizabeth Jane Howard, CBE, was an English novelist. She was an actress and a model before becoming a novelist. In 1951, she won the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize for her first novel, The Beautiful Visit. Six further novels followed, before she embarked on her best known work, a four novel family saga (i.e., The Cazalet Chronicles) set in wartime Britain. The Light Years, Marking Time, Confusion, and...more
More about Elizabeth Jane Howard...
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