The Light Years is the first book in a series of stories known as the Cazalet Chronicles, about an upper middle class English family in the mid-20th century. The Light Years begins on the eve of World War II and the five books in the series take the reader through the war and into the post-war. The story in the The Light Years unfolds through more than two dozen well-drawn characters and the author, Elizabeth Jane Howard, is especially adept in her understanding of the universe of children.
I first read these books when I was in my 20s and hadn’t read them for years when I picked up the Light Years in May. I remembered some elements of the novel, but was struck anew at the brilliance of Howard’s ability to weave a story rich with so many characters and so well-fixed in historical time. Howard has command of the sentiments of so many people. As the author, she is fair to them all, even those who don’t deserve our sympathy.
This is a powerful experience for me. Of course I’m aware that people feel and act differently from me and even different from how I want them to act. But that old adage of walking a mile in another’s person’s shoes is always a valuable lesson to remember. Howard does a beautiful job at permitting the reader to walk that mile.
In May, the busiest month of my year, I eagerly consumed the The Light Years and the next two books in the series (Marking Time and Confusion). I’m saving the last two books of the collection the month of June and the relaxation of summer break. It’s always a pleasure to read a book I enjoy, but especially pleasing to read that book again as I experience life from an all-together different vantage point.