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Book review: Casting Off, by Elizabeth Jane Howard

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At the end of the third volume of the Cazalet Chronicles, Confusion, a lot of threads were left dangling. Here they are all tidied up pretty completely, against the background of life in post-war Britain, which still has plenty of hardships to be endured more or less stoically. Rationing of food, clothing, and fuel is still there or is even increasing under the Labour government, and there are the famous London smogs, one of which Howard describes vividly.

One difference between this volume and its predecessors is that we see events more through the eyes of the male characters than was the case previously. Rupert, the youngest brother, has returned from France after a long unexplained absence and is trying to rebuild his relationship with his young wife Zoe. Edward, the middle brother, is continuing his affair with Diana and it looks increasingly likely that he will have to decide what to do about his marriage to Villy. Hugh, the eldest of the three, is still broken-hearted after the death of his wife Sybil.

It is however Archie, the friend of practically all the members of the family, who comes to the fore in this book. Up to now his role has been that of wise counsellor, picking up the pieces when relationships break up and offering discreet support to everyone while avoiding getting too personally involved, But here he does become centrally involved in the story.

This is not to say that the female members of the cast, who are mostly in their early twenties, are neglected. In the previous volume there was a lot of information about Louise's increasingly unhappy marriage, but that story is no longer centre stage, which I found to be something of a relief; I felt the autobiographical element was rather too obtrusive. Instead the focus is mainly on Clary, who does a lot of growing up by the end of the book.

At the close we have happy endings, in varying degrees, for pretty well all the characters. This would seem to mark the end of the series, but in fact Howard did write a sequel—All Change—which was published in 2013; it was her final novel.

%T Casting Off
%S Volume 4 of the Cazalet Chronicles
%A Elizabeth Jane Howard
%I Macmillan
%C London =
%D 1995
%G ISBN 0 333 60757 0
%P 483pp
%K fiction
%O harback 4to
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