Book review: Confusion (The Cazalet Chronicles) by Elizabeth Jane Howard

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Confusion is the third in the series of the Cazalet Chronicles.  The book follows the Cazalets through the long dark days of the Second World War, with the focus on the lives of Louise, Polly and Clary.  The yearning of the adolescence girls, Polly and Clary, gives way to their first taste of independence in London, but it is not as they imagined.  Polly is wrapt up in the death of her mother and her concern for her grieving father, and the responsibility she feels for her younger siblings.  Clary remains the only Cazalet that seems to believe her father is not dead.  Both girls form a growing attachment to Archie, the friend and confidant of the Cazalets.

Perhaps the most surprising turn is that Louise abandons her ideas of the stage and enters into a society marriage, with a famous painter, Michael, which quickly fails to live up to her expectations.  Louise is fighting a losing battle for her husband’s affections with Zee, his domineering mother.  Louise performs her duties well, and delivers a son, but Louise makes no attachment with him.   Louise’s marriage becomes sour, and she falls for one of Michael’s cousins, to tragic end for Louise.

Howard continues to explore the role of women in marriage and society in Confusion, showing considerable parallels across generations of Cazalet women in dutiful marriages, from the Duchy, through Villy and now Louise.  There is a great sense of love and of loss in this book.

It is the character of Zoe that develops the most in complexity, as she battles through her grief through the love of her daughter, Jules.  It is the Duchy who ‘saves’ Zoe, and in the process, puts her in the path of an American serviceman.  Zoe embarks on a passionate love affair, which ends in tragedy, with the ever-loyal Archie as the bearer of the news.

Howard shows us various love affairs, as adultery seems rife in many relationships – Jessica, Angela, Sid, Zoe, Edward and Louise – all behind the veils of a seemingly prudent and prudish society.

I enjoyed Confusion as much as I did Marking Time.  There is a twist at the end of the novel that made me wish it wouldn’t end – fortunately Casting Off was waiting on the book shelf.  Confusion is delightful reading and Howard’s writing is clean and beautifully observed.  She truly is a master of her craft.

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