Review: The Light Years by Elizabeth Jane Howard (1990)


Elegantly constructed and told with exceptional grace, The Light Years is a modern classic of twentieth-century English life and is the first novel in Elizabeth Jane Howard’s extraordinary, bestselling family saga The Cazalet Chronicles.

Every summer, the Cazalet brothers – Hugh, Edward and Rupert – return to the family home in the heart of the Sussex countryside with their wives and children. There, they are joined by their parents and unmarried sister Rachel to enjoy two blissful months of picnics, games, and excursions to the coast. But despite the idyllic setting, nothing can be done to soothe the siblings’ heartache: Hugh is haunted by the ravages of the Great War, Edward is torn between his wife and his latest infidelity, and Rupert is in turmoil over his inability to please his demanding wife. Meanwhile, Rachel risks losing her only chance at happiness because of her unflinching loyalty to the family.

With cover artwork exclusively designed by artist Luke Edward Hall, this will be an edition to treasure. The Light Years is followed by Marking Time, the second book in the series.


I can’t tell you how delighted I was to receive a set of the newly reissued Cazalet Chronicles – huge thanks to Rosie Wilson at Pan Macmillan for some of the most beautiful book post I have ever been sent! I also realised that I have only read four out of the five (many years ago), so I am really excited to reread the whole series and then catch up with what I’ve missed!

Rereading a book that you haven’t read in years is always a bit of a risk, especially when it is one you absolutely loved. What if your tastes have changed? What if it’s not as good as you remember? Fortunately, with Elizabeth Jane Howard, I knew within a few paragraphs that I was still in love with her writing. I am going to sound a bit like I am describing a cake here, but, bear with me – her prose somehow manages to be both light and rich at the same time. There is a delicate touch that makes the story extremely easy to read, and yet each page is imbued with dozens of tiny details and tactile descriptions that elevate it beyond being merely a quick read.

The characters came flooding back to me – each one as complex and multi-faceted as anyone you might meet in real life. I remembered my favourites, and those I loved to hate. Moments, incidents, sometimes individual sentences stirred my memory as if it had been days and not years since I last read them. There is a beautiful balance of light and dark, of humour and poignancy, and there was one moment in particular (no spoilers) that I realised had deeply upset me years ago and that somehow I had never really forgotten it. But there were also moments that made me laugh, that filled me with affection for the characters, even as they reveal their flaws. I genuinely think that EJH operates on a a kind of higher plane of writing – it’s very close to perfect. If you haven’t read these books yet, now is the time; and if you read them a long time ago, let me tell you, they absolutely stand up to a revisit.

This is a book that etches itself on your psyche and leaves a permanent impression, and it was such a joy to retrace those shapes. I’m desperate to fit in Marking Time, the second book in the series, as soon as possible.

The Light Years by Elizabeth Jane Howard is published by Pan Macmillan and is available to purchase here.


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