Marking Time (Volume 2 of the Cazalet Chronicles), by Elizabeth Jane Howard

Takes up the story shortly after The Light Years left off, with the family coping with the privations of wartime as well as their own individual problems. Like the first book in the series, this is beautifully written and treats all the characters with respect.

The characters in the book comment on how they feel as if they are just marking time, and this sense is conveyed very well in the book: there is a feeling of being in a kind of limbo, unable to make progress while the war is on because its course and eventual outcome is unknown. Despite this, the children are growing up, and a larger portion of the narrative focuses on them, especially Louise and her acting career. What I found impressive here is Howard's confidence in just telling each story, and taking her time about it: giving each character as much space as necessary rather than trying to devote an equal amount to everyone. In fact I don't think I enjoyed this as much as the first book because I found the childrens' stories not quite so interesting as the adults', but it was a close thing.

There were some lovely passages in here, such as when she described the way one of the boys seemed always to be covered with the evidence of minor injuries - bruises, cuts etc. (I would have underlined this one and quoted it if I'd been reading the book) and the story of how Archie was happy to fall out of love with Rachel. Most striking was the letter that Clary had from her father Rupert towards the end of the book, showing that he might still be alive after all. What was wonderful about this was that while the letter didn't reveal any hitherto unknown aspect of the story, the characters and situation in the book seemed so real by this time that a single sentence was all that was needed to bring tears to my eyes - you just knew how much that one sentence would mean to Clary.

The next volume is on order from the library - I hope it doesn't take as long as this one to come, because it is quite difficult keeping track of who everyone is. I think I'll probably buy the books anyway, since they've all got a picture of the family tree in the front.

Completed : 26-Jan-2004 (audiobook)

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