July 1945. Hugh Cazalet, after the death of his wife Sybil, now suffers another loss as Miss Pearson, his secretary for 23 years, resigns. But the end of the European war is in sight. By the end of Casting Off by Elizabeth Jane Howard, it is 1947, the war is over and there have been more engagements, marriages and divorces, births and deaths.
The title refers not just to ending relationships, but to letting go of war-time life. This is more complicated than anticipated. Longing for something for so long, does not make it easy to live through when it happens. Change is challenging. Post-war life is not all it is expected to be, in some ways it is harder. Though the privations of rationing continue, often harsher than during the war itself, possibilities for new life unfold like a flower in bloom. But there are no easy answers.
The three cousins are grown-up– Polly, Louise and Clary now face life as young adults, their idealism tainted by the sadness and disappointments of war. But there are surprises in store for Clary, while the Cazalet brothers must make a business decision which affects the financial future of the whole family. Can they still afford the Sussex home, the anchor for the family throughout the war, and home to The Duchy and The Brig? And where will this extended war-time family now live, separated from one another?
Expecting happiness after the end of the war, ordinary life disappoints as the trials and disappointments continue. Louise’s friend Stella explains: “… when anyone becomes more than a certain amount unhappy they get cut off. They don’t feel any comfort or concern or affection that comes from other people – all of that simply disappears inside some bottomless pit and when people realize that, they stop trying to be affectionate or comforting. Would you like some grey coffee, or some pink-brown tea?”
Howard’s characters are so clearly drawn that they became real people for me, while I read these books. They feel like real friends. That is a huge achievement for any novelist.
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