Tag Archives: Elizabeth Jane Howard

Short Stories – More Treats

This week I am spoiling you with recommendations for two more collections of short stories. Over the years on Bookword blog I have recommended many collections. Some of these are listed below, with links to my posts about them. The form is very appealing to me. I often read short stories when I am between novels, or at night when sleep is hard to come by. And sometimes I read them just for pleasure. The two collections featured here are highly recommended.

A Different Sound: stories by mid-century writers edited by Lucy Scholes (2023)

There are eleven stories in this collection, chosen and introduced by Lucy Scholes. They are connected by being the era in which they were written – during the Second World War or just after. And they are all by women. The introduction introduces stories that are different, as the title suggests. 

The church clock struck seven. The chimes had a different sound, coming across water instead of grassy meadows. (From The Thames Spread Out by Elizabeth Taylor (252). 

What is different, perhaps, is that women are finding their voices in a more confident way, expanding their experiences during the war, and being taken seriously in the literary world. Many of the writers were regularly published in the New Yorker, for example.

The collection is very varied, including some creepy stories, such as Three Miles Up by Elizabeth Jane Howard, and Daphne Du Maurier’s The Birds. I have to admit that I didn’t read it, as I did not want to replay Hitchcock’s horror movie in my head. He transposed the setting from Cornwall to California by the way.

Shocking Weather, Isn’t It? by Inez Holden contrasts attitudes in peace- and war time. Bullied and neglected and in prison for theft before the war, Swithin Silas is considered a hero when his cousin goes to visit him a second time in hospital. Now a wing commander, he is considered a hero, the only patient that’s been awarded the D.F.C. with two bars. Inez Holden has written some interesting fiction: There’s No Story There is a novel set in an ammunitions factory where Inez Holden reveals the irony of her own title. 

For me, the two outstanding stories are by the Elizabeths Taylor and Bowen. The Thames Spread Out, quoted above, is a classic story, set on the banks of the Thames, which has flooded. She describes a swan swimming into the house, up to the foot of the stairs. A ‘kept’ woman finds herself reviewing her situation, trapped not just by the river, but also by the routine of the Friday night appearances of her lover. When the Thames recedes, she copies the swan and leaves.

Summer Night by Elizabeth Bowen is set in neutral Ireland, during the war. It contains many complicated characters, is full of people deluding themselves about their lives: a woman driving through the early night to meet her lover; the lover entertaining neighbours unwillingly; the guests are a brother and sister who have an unusual relationship as she is deaf and he would normally be touring Europe; and the home situation of the driver is uneasy too, her husband, their two children and his aunt. As in so much of Elizabeth Bowen’s fiction, nothing is straight forward. The other stories are also worth reading.

Thanks to JacquieWine’s Journal for the recommendation.

A Different Sound: stories by mid-century writers edited by Lucy Scholes (2023)published by Pushkin Press. 270pp

Dance Move by Wendy Erskine (2022)

I was impressed by the craft that went into Wendy Erskine’s first collection of short stories, Sweet Home. Her characters are ordinary people, living unremarkable lives in and around present-day Belfast, but buried in each life is failure, or disappointment or loss. Many of her characters are acutely lonely. All are unable to improve their lives.

In this second collection of short stories, Dance Move, we are again in the territory of unrealised dreams and gloom lowering over their attempts. Each story is told with a precision in the writing that reveals much more than it says. If you haven’t yet become familiar with Wendy Erskine, let me tell you, you will be bowled over.

Dance Move by Wendy Erskine (2022)published by Picador. 223pp

Related posts on Bookword

Sweet Home by Wendy Erskine (March 2021)

Even more praise for short stories (September 2021)

More Praise for Short Stories (January 2017)

Complete Short Stories by Elizabeth Taylor (June 2016)

Wave Me Goodbye: stories of the Second World War, Ed Anne Boston (November 2020)

There’s No Story There by Inez Holden (March 2021)


Filed under Books, Elizabeth Bowen, Reading, short stories

The Light Years by Elizabeth Jane Howard

The big question for members of my reading group was this: were any of us going to read the four subsequent novels in the series known as The Cazalet ChroniclesThe Light Years is Volume I and over 500 pages long. Did we like it enough to want to read more?

The Light Years

The Chronicles appeared from 1990 onwards and follow the fortunes of the Cazalet family from 1937 through three generations. They are an upper-middle class family, whose money comes from the timber trade. 

The Brig and the Duchy live in Home Place, looked after by their unmarried daughter and their servants. Home Place is a much-extended house in the Sussex countryside in the south of England. It is the family tradition that the three sons will bring their wives and children to spend two months of the summer on the farm. The sons will spend some of that time in London, pursuing the family business. 

In 1937 this life, this pattern of the year, seems likely to continue for ever. The horrors of the First World War are nearly two decades behind them. Two of the sons fought in the trenches. Hugh lost a hand and is fearful of any return to war. Edward emerged unscathed. But as the family assemble for their summer holidays such considerations seem far behind.

The three sections of the book follow the members of the family as they prepare for the summer in 1937, and then through the two summers that follow. It culminates in the relief of Munich. There will not be war in 1938.

What we noticed

It’s a long novel, about 500 pages. But we all found it easy to read, well-written and always interesting. The short sections and the many characters kept one’s interest.

There are many characters: the Brig and the Duchy, their four offspring and three wives, and eight grandchildren. There are also many servants and some aunts, friends and cousins who appear at Home Place. We all appreciated the family tree. Those reading on Kindle revealed that they had photographed it on their phones to consult while reading. 

The novel has very little narrative, no big overarching storyline. Instead, as in any family, there are trails and sequences, themes picked up or lost. A baby is born, another conceived. The grandchildren make and break friendships. Rachel, the unmarried daughter has a female friend who is able to visit from time to time. They are very much in love, but this is not openly acknowledged by the family.

Jane noticed that there are many single women, who did not live happy lives, in The Light Years. Rachel is expected to remain caring for her parents as they age. She keeps them company, solves many domestic problems and is seen as indispensable. Her own wishes do not figure. There are aunts who come to stay. And the governess, Miss Milliment, who had lost her soulmate in the first war has a very bleak existence in Stoke Newington until summoned to attend to the grandchildren, first in London and then at Home Place. These are the ‘surplus’ women of the inter-war years.

We were attracted to different characters. We enjoyed the episodes that revealed the relationships between them. And we could see Elizabeth Jane Howard’s skill in developing believable and changing characters and relationships over time. 

Will we read on?

One member of the book group had read The Light Years in preparation for our meeting, and then immediately gone on to read the other four novels, finding them a good distraction from episodes of sleeplessness. Another had finished The Light Years and immediately looked at the BBC TV 2001 series (The Cazalets). A third has ordered the next two volumes from the library. A fourth has decided to finish reading The Light Years

And me? Well, you will have to wait and see. I noted that the next book in the series is called Marking Time. After that there is ConfusionCasting Off and All Change.

The Light Years by Elizabeth Jane Howard (1990) Pan. The Cazalet Chronicles (I) 554pp.

Thank you, Marianne, for your recommendation.


Filed under Books, Reading, Reviews

Themed Reviews – Written by Elizabeth

What a happy coincidence that so many excellent writers have the first name Elizabeth. Here are four that have provided exceptional delight in my reading. I have reviewed books authored by these Elizabeths many times on this blog including every novel by Elizabeth Taylor.

Below you can find links to novels by Elizabeth Bowen, Elizabeth Taylor, Elizabeth Strout and Elizabeth von Arnim as well as a few more suggested Elizabeths.

Elizabeth Bowen (1899-1973)

Born in Dublin, Elizabeth Bowen lived through some of the worst times in Irish history. She remained connected to her Irish roots through Bowen Court, which she inherited but was eventually forced to sell. Although she spent a great deal of time in Bowen Court and wrote about her love of the place, she lived in England for most of her life. During the war she lived in London, in Clarence Terrace, Regent’s Park, the setting for her captivating wartime novel The Heat of the Day. She wrote 10 novels, many collections of short stories and other non-fiction books.

Early on I reviewed one of her first, The Last September, and it is the most read of all my reviews on Bookoword. Recently I reviewed her last novel, Eva Trout. I have reviewed others too: Friends and Relations, The House in Paris and The Hotel.

She was a champion of Elizabeth Taylor.

Elizabeth Taylor (1912–1975)

Elizabeth Taylor is well known for being the most under-rated author of her time. She has always had admiring followers, in the past and today. Virago has just re-issued her novels, again. Born in Reading and resident in the area all her life. The setting along the Thames is included in many of her short stories.

I have reviewed all Elizabeth Taylor’s fiction on Bookword: all 12 novels for adults, her children’s novel Mossy Trotter and her complete Short Stories. I also looked at her biography by Nicola Beauman, The Other Elizabeth Taylor.

You can find all the reviews by clicking on the category Elizabeth Taylor’s novels in the list of categories in the RH column. The review of Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont is one of my most popular reviews.

Elizabeth Strout (b1956)


Born in Maine, US Elizabeth Strout has published five novels to date. I have enthusiastically reviewed two of them so far. The first won the Pulitzer Prize in 2009: Olive Kitteridge. It is included in the series of older women in fiction.

The other is My Name is Lucy Barton which was in the long list for the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction and for the Man Booker Prize in 2016.

Her new book Anything is Possible is on my tbr list and I will review it soon

Elizabeth von Arnim (1866-1941)

I am happy to recommend two novels by Elizabeth von Arnim, which I have read, and look forward to reading and sharing more of her work.

Elizabeth and her German Garden (1898) is a delightful account of a year in her garden, which she favours over her house. Despite her name the author was from Australia, but moved to live mostly in Europe. Her first husband appears in this novel as the Man of Wrath. Her love of gradens and acute observations of social customs were already evident in her first novel.

The Enchanted April (1922) is something of a fairy tale in which four unhappy women agree to spend a month in a castle on the Italian coast, despite being strangers to each other. The place and its gardens together with the generous spirit of one of the women lead to each of them finding a better future. I plan to write more about this book in August, specifically about Mrs Fisher, who is 65 and therefore a candidate for the older women in fiction series. What is proper and how it restricts women and their happiness and their men’s too, dominate the novel, written in her witty and readable style

Other Elizabeths

Here are some more suggested reads by Elizabeths:

Elizabeth Jenkins (1905–2010) The Tortoise and the Hare (1954) and Harriet (1934) (both published by Persephone Books) I have not reviewed either of these on Bookword.

Elizabeth Jane Howard (1923 –2014) The Cazulet Chronicle, Love All and many others. I have not read her novels myself, waiting for recommendations from other readers.

Elizabeth Smart (1913-1986) By Grand Central Station I Sat down and Wept (1945).

Elizabeth McKenzie (b. 1958) The Portable Veblen (2016) – shortlisted for last year’s Baileys Women’s Fiction Prize.

Over to you

That makes EIGHT Elizabeths who are worth reading. Have I missed any out?

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Filed under Books, Elizabeth Bowen, Elizabeth Taylor's novels, Older women in fiction

A Game of Hide-and-Seek by Elizabeth Taylor

After the stress and upheaval of moving I was anticipating pleasure and relaxation when I started to read Elizabeth Taylor’s fifth novel, A Game of Hide-and-Seek. But what I got was more tension, and more stress.

48 Hide & Seek

This is a love story. The tension in Part One arises from two young people becoming aware of feelings of love. Harriet and Vesey are in their late teens. Neither has much going for them. Vesey is staying with his aunt Caroline, before going up to Oxford. He has all the bad grace and gaucheness of an adolescent, is very absorbed in himself. His behaviour towards Harriet is sometimes hurtful and unreliable.

Harriet has done badly at school and lives in the shadow of her suffragette mother, Lilian. She goes to work for her mother’s greatest friend and comrade-in-arms, Caroline. She types letters and looks after the children. She cries at everything.

The events of Part Two take place twenty years later. The Second World War has taken place before Vesey reappears in Harriet’s life. They quickly realise that they are still in love. Vesey has not been able to make much of himself, left Oxford early, and after the war has joined a touring company as an actor, playing Laertes to someone else’s Hamlet. Harriet however has made a life for herself, represented by the house in Jessica Terrace, with its tasteful middle-class décor. She married Charles, who is older than her. He is honest, solid, dependable and plays the piano. They have a daughter, Betsy, who is 15. As Vesey was in his late teens, she is very absorbed with herself, forever striking poses, prone to unsuitable flights of fancy. She also falls for people, first her Greek teacher Miss Bell and then Vesey.

The central question of the novel is what will happen to Vesey and Harriet now they have reconnected? Harriet is the stronger of the two and the one who must consider what to do. Whatever course of action she takes other people will be hurt. And there is the troubling question of what is right – to follow one’s heart or to honour loyalty and the duties of motherhood and marriage? While she prevaricates Charles behaves jealously and discomforts them both. Betsy reads her mother’s letters from Vesey and decides that he is her father. She goes off the rails at school.

The resolution, any resolution, will be painful. A Game of Hide-and-Seek is an intense exploration of fidelity and loyalty, the dilemmas of marriage and love and loneliness.

37 E Taylor 2

It is a challenge for a writer to create consistent but authentic characters when the action is separated by twenty years. Elizabeth Taylor manages this through the quality of her prose, the precision of the details that shows the nuances of the love affair. Compare these two walks that the lovers take.

For the first ten minutes they were explaining to one another why they had chosen to go for this walk together. Boredom had driven them to it, they decided; a fear, on Vesey’s part, lest he should be asked by Hugo to mow and mark the tennis-lawn; a wish on Harriet’s part, to collect wild-flowers for the children to draw. If the walk turned out badly, it could be the fault of neither, for neither had desired it nor attached importance to it. In a few years’ time, they would be dissembling the other way; professing pleasure they did not feel, undreamed of eagerness. They had not yet learned to gush. Their protestations were of an oafish kind.

When they had established their lack of interest in being together, they became silent. Harriet gathered a large bunch of quaking-grass from under a hedge. Vesey kicked a stone down the middle of the road. (p11)

The second walk is their first time together as mature adults.

At the edge of the lake there were iron seats. When they sat down, some ducks came up through the reeds as if waiting to be fed. After a while, they dispersed again, diving into the water disconsolately. Vesey put his arm inside Harriet’s coat and drew her close to him. Sitting with his cheek against her hair, he did not kiss her, but stared across the water of the lake. For a long while they sat peacefully together. (p145)

Both walks serve to indicate the commitment of the lovers to each other, but their moods are quite different. The silence of the later meeting reveals as much as the reported speech of their earlier walk. We recognise them as the same people, as they do themselves, but in the later encounter they have experience, insight and less awkwardness. The simple phrase, ‘he did not kiss her’ reveals a great deal about their relationship, about its transcending the physical at this moment. In the early encounter they pursue different objects – Harriet the grass, Vesey the stone. But on the later occasion, the time they spent divided from each other has dissolved and now they can sit peacefully together.

As I read her novels in the order they were published, I enjoy three details of her writing. The first is her references to other writers and novels. In A Game of Hide-and-Seek, Vesey announced to Harriet that he wanted to be a writer, but not a novelist.

“The novel is practically finished as an art form,” he replied.

“I suppose it is,” said Harriet.

“Virginia Woolf has brought it to the edge of ruin.”

“Yes,” said Harriet.

“But it was inevitable,” he added, laying no blame. (p13)

I like the layers of humour implied in this little exchange; Vesey is confident and wrong; Harriet is unable to add anything; the writer is letting us know a thing or two about the couple while smiling at a joke about novels. Charles likes reading Persuasion, rather a bad choice for one who fears enduring love. And Harriet’s friend Kitty cautions her against following her feelings by warning her of the fate of Madame Bovary.

Second, I am increasingly admiring the cast of other characters, who are not ciphers. They often provide much of the humour. After Vesey has left Caroline’s house, Harriet takes a job at a dress shop and this provides her with an education – about men, depilatory methods, what to wear on special occasions, how to treat the boss. Her co-workers are a carefully differentiated trio of single women, Misses Brimpton, Lazenby and Lovelace. This is the brief but knowing description of Miss Lovelace:

Warm, large-bosomed, full of dove-like murmurings, she bridged, and had bridged, for many married men the gulf between mother and wife; she encouraged them in self-pity and was an exciting mixture of paramour and nursery-governess. There was no sort of woman that she had not been at one time or another. (p60)

And third, Elizabeth Taylor frequently includes a character with a derivative of her own first name. There is Beth in A View of the Harbour, and Liz in A Wreath of Roses, for example. In this novel it is Betsy, the rather histrionic daughter. These are not self-portraits. Perhaps it was a kind of game she was playing.

A Game of Hide-and-Seek was published in 1951; Elizabeth Taylor had been producing novels at the rate of one a year since her first, At Mrs Lippincote’s, was published in 1945. The next Elizabeth Taylor novel to be read in this project – her sixth – is The Sleeping Beauty. It will be reviewed in September.

A note: the introduction in the Virago edition by Elizabeth Jane Howard is one the best in this series so far.

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Filed under Books, Elizabeth Taylor's novels, Reading, Reviews