The Light Years by Elizabeth Jane Howard

001The Light Years by Elizabeth Jane Howard is the first volume of the Cazalet Chronicles–a series of novels about an upper middle class English family.

In volume one, the Cazalet sons along with their wives and children visit their parents’ home in the country. The action takes place over two summers, 1937 and 1938.

The cast of characters is so large that a family tree and list of characters is provided. I found myself referring to this information regularly at the beginning of the novel.

The Light Years reads like a series of inter-connected vignettes. The point of view shifts in each section. While this technique impedes the flow of the novel, it allows the reader to get to know the various characters, including the many children, more intimately than would be possible if a different writing style had been employed. It also helped me to understand the motivation of several characters who, on the surface, are decidedly unlikable.

The Light Years appealed to me for several reasons.

First, it’s a substantial novel. At 578 pages, it’s a brick of a book. (Keep in mind, I like long novels. When I commit to reading something, I commit. Gone With the Wind, my favourite book ever, comes in at over 1,000 pages.)

Second, I’m facinated by England in the 1930’s so The Light Years ticks that particular box for me. But even readers who aren’t especially interested in England between the wars will be engaged by the many details of daily life and family interaction in this novel.

Third, because The Light Years was written in 1990, the author is able to look back on the events of the novel with some perspective. Rather than allowing a history buff and anglophone like me to wallow in nostalgia for this more innocent, slower paced time, Elizabeth Jane Howard points out some aspects of 1930’s life that are better left behind. A glaring example of this is the constraints on the relationship between Rachel, the unmarried Cazalet daughter and Sid, the woman she loves.

There are three more volumes in the Cazalet Chronicles so I’m happy to have lots of easy summer reading lined up.

The Secret to Happiness is Low Expectations

005I’ve never participated in the military wife culture.

With the exception of England, we’ve always lived off the base. Our neighbours and social circle are overwhelmingly civilian.

My only experience as part of the military family social structure was during our time in the UK. Although I wanted to live in the nearby village, our only option was Married Quarters. Soon after we settled in my sailor departed for five months in another community and I was left with my closest neighbour–a Canadian Army officer’s wife.

She vehemently hated, loathed and detested the Army for all it had “done” to her family. While I was thrilled at the opportunity to live in another country, she seemd angry to leave Canada, even temporarily. She blamed the Canadian Army for everything from her marital spats to the price of a frozen pizza at Tesco. She was the most miserable, wretched person I have ever met and she often spoke of like-minded peers on the base back home.

The funny thing was her husband appeared to accept what the Army offered with good spirits.

I have a similar relationship with the Navy. It’s just my husband’s employer. The Navy is not responsible for my happiness or the state of my marriage.

Sure the Navy has done some pretty crappy things to us (hello, Afghanistan), but my husband knew about the potential for long separations from his loved ones when he joined and I was certainly aware of them when I married him. Neither of us entered our association with the Navy blindly.

In return the Navy has given our family the opportunity to travel, a steady income that allowed me to be a stay at home mom; a secure pension which we’ll need because I was a stay at home mom and of course that dashing uniform.

Perhaps the secret to happiness is low expectations. I didn’t expect hand-holding from the Navy so I wasn’t disapointed when I didn’t get it.