Jan. 29th, 2017

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Casting Off is the fourth of the Cazalet Chronicles, and for almost two decades it was also the final book. This one picks up the family after the end of World War 2, as they try to adjust to peacetime life again in a world which hasn't magically got better just because the war is over; there is still rationing, food is awful, there are strikes and fuel shortages and smog, tensions between supporters of the new Labour government and the Conservatives and concerns about the impending break-up of the Empire. The old social order, where upper-middle-class families like the Cazalets were supported by a staff of servants, has gone, and when the family decamp from Home Place to return to a dingy post-Blitz London, returning to life as separate nuclear families rather than the whole extended family living together, many of them struggle to deal with the sudden absence of the support they've taken for granted all their lives, while the smaller children, who barely remember life as separate families, miss their relatives. Louise, Polly and Clary are young women now, dealing with the mistakes of early adulthood and the pains of first love.

Like the earlier novels, this isn't about events, but about emotions; the viewpoint shifts between members of the family and their connections, each moment including a lot of flashbacks and introspection (and a certain amount of the "she, X" construction that people complain about so much in Hilary Mantel's writing). We get to see both the good and bad in everyone, and this time round, Howard even manages what I thought was impossible and makes me feel some sympathy for Edward. Because this was the end of the series, she does draw the threads together towards the end and manages to produce happy (or at least happyish) endings for what feels like a somewhat implausibly high number of the characters. (Maybe I'm just cynical. But while I would like to think that most people are reasonably happy in their day-to-day lives, having so many members of one family's lives work out into something good in the space of about six months feels statistically improbable.) It also all gets a bit meta towards the very end, as Clary reflects on finishing her novel and saying goodbye to characters she's come to know so well, which I couldn't help feeling was really Howard using Clary as her mouthpiece.

Somehow I didn't enjoy this quite as much as the earlier books; I think maybe I liked Louise, Polly and Clary better as teenagers than as young women, and despite the many happy resolutions, there was a sense of previously-solid relationships breaking down, or at least shaking. Or maybe it was just that I was feeling a bit off-colour and struggling to concentrate sometimes. I certainly liked it a lot, and I found myself liking it more as I got towards the end (so maybe it was the shakiness of relationships after all?).
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This weekend has been hard. I've spent far too much time tweeting and retweeting and signing and emailing and now I'm suffering from news overload again. And it's Sunday evening, and I'm still fighting off a cold, and I need to unwind so I can get a decent night's sleep before I go and tackle another week at work.

We're in this for the long haul, and we need to look after ourselves. And sometimes that means looking away from the big awful things and trying to find the joy in small things. On which note, and without trying to deny that the awfulness is still going on, I'm declaring this a Good Things Post. Tell me something that cheers you up, even a little bit. Tell another commenter something nice about themself. You could even tell me something nice about myself, if you wanted. Or, if you ask, I'll tell you something nice about you, or just offer a virtual hug.

I don't know if it'll work, but it seems worth a try.


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