Saturday, February 1, 2014

Feb. 1: Catching Up!

CONFUSIONCONFUSION by Elizabeth Jane Howard
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is definitely a reread, inspired by Cornflower Blog's comment that a fifth and final Cazalet is being released (perhaps in the wake of Howard's recent death? Is it an unfinished piece, finished by another, or was this accidental?). The series is absorbing, though it can be frustrating in the minutiae of the characters--who IS Jessica, exactly?--and, frankly, by Howard's continuous creation of dark clouds for anything resembling a silver lining. Halfway through this piece I thought, "Why can't any of her characters have any happiness?" There's also a somewhat creepy motif of much older men with much (as in 20 years younger) women, a combo which Howard seems, Austen-like, to find completely suitable, and which she then bumps into high profile.

However, for people with a fascination for WWII British life, this whole series (and I'm going to cut and paste this review for Casting Off, Cazalet #4) will satisfy. It does what it does well--and since I've reread it probably three times, it's interesting, despite its flaws. Casting OffCasting Off by Elizabeth Jane Howard
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

**This one, post-war, is a little less dour, though people still seem to suffer consistently. Some things have looked up, however.

Old FilthOld Filth by Jane Gardam
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Thanks to Graeme Malcolm, the reader, for getting me through this novel, which allowed me to appreciate its entire scope and mastery. I have been reading several English WWII novels/pieces of nonfiction lately--not sure why--so my sense of change, societal and personal loss, and general doom and gloom has been high, and several times I wondered why I was listening to this meticulous tale of a man at the end of his life. . . but, ultimately, the book served to 1. wow me with Gardam's writing skill, and 2. remind me of the value and wonder of every individual's experience, encouraging me to simply pay attention to other people and their lives.

One of the reasons I stuck with Old Filth in the darker parts at the start was that Jeanne Ray, author of Calling Invisible Women and, more notably, mother of Ann Patchett, listed it as one of her favorite books just as I was about to start listening to it, and that serendipitous mention (along with Cornflowerbooks Blog's rave opinions about Gardam in general) kept me going. And I'm glad I kept going. The novel is rewarding, beautifully written, and full of images and experiences that make it rich and wonderful. Not an easy read by any means (and probably not one to take on during a dark time of your life, in fact), but well worth the investment.

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