cover image The Light Years

The Light Years

Elizabeth Jane Howard. Pocket Books, $18.95 (0pp) ISBN 978-0-671-70907-5

In her charming but unwieldy eighth novel, the author of Odd Girl Out and Getting It Right portrays three generations of an upper-class English family summering at their Sussex estate in 1937 and 1938. The daily concerns of the Cazalet patriarch, his four children, nine grandchildren, countless in-laws, servants and pets range from the mundane to the seriously significant: the children rescue their cat from a tree, the chauffeur drives too slowly, the adults discuss the prospect of war. The temptations of adultery and incest that lurk beneath the chitchat rarely threaten the comfortable routine. Howard's attempts at insightful characterization, suspenseful plot development and sweeping depiction of an era achieve only partial success, due to the sheer size of the cast and the continual introduction of subplots thereafter neglected. For hundreds of breezy but disappointingly ``light'' pages, Howard sets the stage for climactic events that never occur. The fan of sagas full of slice-of-life detail may find the book too short, while the lover of catharsis will feel it stops short of its goal. In either case, another installment is required. (Sept.)