Book Review: All Change (Cazalet Chronicles) by Elizabeth Jane Howard

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All Change is the final instalment of the Cazalet Chronicles, and follows various family members during the period 1956-1958. There is a whole new generation added, and a scattering of other children. This leads to an additional level of complexity, and confusion for the reader. It was reminiscent of reading the first book, The Light Years, constantly flicking back to the family tree to check who’s who. This frustrated me a little, but at last there was a decent family tree (rather than the list of characters as happened in the previous books).

The book opens with the death of The Duchy, which liberates Rachel for the first time to live a life that she choses. Hers is a remarkable story in All Change, perhaps my favourite ‘update’, with a very moving turn of events relating to Sid, her lover. It is through Rachel that the book begins and ends. It is Rachel that we perceive to have lost the most (certainly her brothers and her nieces see it that way). It is Rachel perhaps who has never found herself, with a huge conditional sense of self-worth through others. It is both admirable and tragic, and it makes for interesting reflection as to why Howard chose for us to have this as the last moment in the book, and indeed the series.

All Change, rather like Casting Off, read like another summing up. Only we’d moved forwards 20 years, so there was more to wrap up. This book seemed less of an examination of the role of women in marriage, but looked at the development of the marriages. Edward, having ‘abandoned’ Villy for Diana seems to be in a miserable place, more so when the Cazalet fortunes make a turn for the worst. The households (except Edward and Diana and the Sussex family home of Home Place) no longer have servants and cooks, and we see a different, harder lifestyle for the likes of Clary and Louisa. The lives are more chaotic and more challenging than we have seen before. The only unlikely storyline was in Neville, and what can only be described as incest – this jarred for me, and made me wonder why Howard had included it. We also saw more of Teddy than we’d seen before, a little ‘left stage’ for me, but it served a purpose in dealing with an unplanned pregnancy and the issues around abortions in the 1950s. Perhaps this was important to Howard to include.

Home Place sees the vast Cazalet clan descend for the last, perfect Christmas (it snows, of course) where the family reminisce about the glory days and say their goodbyes to the lives they once had. It is sentimental, but this seems true to the characters.

All Change is my least favourite of the Cazalet Chronicles, but overall I still enjoyed it. Howard is a master amateur psychologist, with astute observations of people and their relationships making for interesting and complex characterisation. I believe this is the key strength running through all of the books in the series. I heartily recommend the series.

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