5 January 2018

Confusion by Elizabeth Jane Howard

*No spoilers

My affection for the world of the Cazalet family continues.  In book three, the weariness of WWII has reached the Sussex countryside.  Rich joints of meat aren't as plentiful as they once were, now often replaced by tinned meat, and bread appears to have taken on something of a grey hue.  Trips to Hermione's dress shop are rare, while the mention of pins, needles, and the 'making over' of clothes has increased.  Material for dresses is rationed but good quality bed sheets are a clever substitute.  Servants are abandoning domestic service for war work while Polly and Clary Cazalet are as much a team as ever.  Their discussions about the war and relationships have less mystery attached to them, and I wondered if the author took pleasure in speaking through them at times.

    'I don't think women are allowed to do any really interesting jobs.  They're allowed to get killed in a war, but not to do any of the killing back.  Another injustice for you.    'You know perfectly well, Clary, that you would absolutely loathe to kill anyone.'    'That's not the point.  The point is that if women had an equal responsibility about wars, we probably wouldn't have them.  That's my view.'

A familiar topic in novels set during wartime is extramarital affairs.  I found myself cheering one character on, felt dread about another, and wanted (quite desperately) to slap a a third character.  In one scene, Howard brilliantly captured the horror of a dignified woman, full of anticipation for an assignation with a like-minded man, only to find herself in a rubbish-strewn borrowed flat for a quickie.  The rose-coloured haze through which many people from the middle-class experienced life, now has a somewhat tarnished hue.

It's also been interesting to compare, then and now, the subtle interest in Americans suddenly popping up in relationships with English citizens.  And the other way around...

'I was just wondering how many parents are sitting over coffee in America reading letters from their twenty-year-old sons saying that they've fallen in love with Grizelda Wickham-Painswich-Wickham or Queenie Bloggs and how much they are looking forward to introducing them to the family.  I'm sure we're not alone, if that's any comfort.'

Trips into London to attend secretarial classes, check on a pied-a-terre, or meet with a lover, are not overly associated with descriptions of cavernous holes in the street or rubble-strewn neighbourhoods.  So if you're looking for vivid scenes of the Blitz and damp air-raid shelters, you won't find much of that here, but the social history lessons continue.  For example, I had no idea that the tops of some pillar boxes were painted with a gas-detecting paint that was lime green in colour.  And that a perfume from Hattie Carnegie could be so desirable....with a name like 'Beige'.  Has anyone played a card game called Bezique?  It was said to be a favourite of Winston Churchill and he was something of an expert at it.

Buying all five books in this series was the right thing to do.  Book three closes with the end of the war, leaving the reader to wonder who will be returning to Home Place and how much damage has been left in its wake.


6 comments:

  1. I loved the series too, the people all seemed to be so real. Such a skilled writer.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I know what you mean about the characters being so real, Toffeeapple...they'll stay with me for a very long time. Now slightly worried the upcoming television series won't match up to my perception of everyone!

      Delete
  2. I seem to be the only person who didn't enjoy the Cazalets, and I'm not sure why - something to do with Howard's writing style perhaps. I couldn't connect with any of the characters, didn't care what happened to them, and had to keep checking back to establish who was who (I can't remember the last time that happened). I bought the books because the Radio 4 versions were excellent, and I really expected I would like them - I was disappointed that I didn't.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Actually, you have a kindred spirit in Claire (The Captive Reader), as this series hasn't sparked any joy for her either. Although, the very thought makes me want to reach for my smelling salts, Christine!

      Delete
  3. I remember buying the first books at Heathrow en route to spend Christmas in Mauritius - and galloped through them on a gorgeous beach where I heartily wish I was lounging today!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You and me both, Mary, and I'm not even a 'sun' person! We just have to get through the next 90 days, or so, and then we can shed the wool socks and hot water bottles. And I love the alliteration of 'Christmas in Mauritius'.

      Delete