Friday, 3 January 2014

Elizabeth Jane Howard, obit 2nd January 2014

I cried when I read the obituary of Elizabeth Jane Howard in The Times this morning.  That doesn't happen often.

I love her books. I have read all the Cazalet Chronicles except the most recent, which was published last year, and is entitled" All Change".  I have ear-marked the latter as a book group choice for later in 2014.

I remember reading "The Long View" as a young woman, before I was married, and being terrified by the sinister portrait of a mentally cruel husband.  It was so scary that I dared not re-read it, even after I found out that the man was closely modelled on EJH's first husband, Peter Scott, only son of Robert Falcon Scott, the Antarctic explorer.  (Robert Falcon Scott became a book pash of mine in 2012, the anniversary of his death).

EJ had a fascinating life, three husbands, (the last of them Kinglsey Amis, who comes across as even less likeable).  She wrote characters from her life into many of her books, and was an astute observer of social change from the 1920's to the 1980's.

Her Cazalet novels are so easy to read, and so redolent of the inter-war period in which EJH grew up.  (My knowledge of this period comes from the verbal reminiscences and ramblings of both my parents, who were in their hey-day at the same time.  My mother was a year younger than EJH).

Her only daughter, Nicola was born in an air-raid. Her autobiography details some of the hardships she encountered but her strength and determination is everywhere evident. She had remarkable energy - her last novel was published in her 90th year.

Her beautiful writing style will be much missed by readers like me, who love a good family saga, page-turning and easy to read, with a wealth of social and historical detail.

Her near contemporary, Nobel prize-winning Doris Lessing died late last year.  Doris's work had a black side to it, a very dry, cutting and critical view of society.  I liked her little, although I felt I had to read most of her ouvre.

EJ was warmer, more engaging, her books a pleasure to read.  Few are left now who lived through the Second World War.  For fifties children like myself, indelibly marked by its impact on our parents, EJ's voice was instructive and fascinating.  It is sad that this voice is now silent.